Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, September 2, 2001

Book art

strikes close
to home

The book is set in Hawaii
in 1968, at the


Review by Burl Burlingame

IT'S INTERESTING TO READ almost any novel that takes place where you live. In "From Here to Eternity," for example, when Pruitt staggers drunk out of Chinatown and winds up on Alakea, you nod and think, Yep, been there. Staggering, too. Then there's a recent John Farris novel that places Waimanalo on the north shore of Oahu, and he has Ala Moana Boulevard running all the way to Hickam. You want to give him credit, but jeez -- buy a map, already!

Then there are books that strike even closer to home. It's a bit eerie to read Richard Hoyt's "Vivienne" because a fair amount of it takes place in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin newsroom, and many of the characters are real Star-Bulletin employees.

Or were. Almost everybody here then is gone now, but not forgotten. The book takes place in 1968, a period rich in ironic possibilities as the nation struggled with the conflicting demands of duty and conscience.


By Richard Hoyt (Forge, $23.95)

We were eye-deep in Vietnam, peaceful politicians were being murdered, and a complacent generation began questioning the status quo. America never got over 1968, and "Vivienne" places us squarely in that era.

The plot involves a Star-Bulletin reporter who's vaguely hipper than his colleagues, and so he gets the "youth beat" assignments, including covering anti-war activism. He meets -- and falls hard for -- Vivienne, the Vietnamese wife of an American Army colonel who's also the scion of a rich old kamaaina family.

The three get involved in a rather nasty emotional rondelet, and the reporter is pulled in over his head. There's a fair amount of mean-spirited sex and occasional bouts of cheerful violence. There's no easy solution to the novel's dilemma, which is to Hoyt's credit, and it ends with the right amount of wistful melancholy.

And you don't need Cliff Notes to figure out that the characters represent both Vietnam and the United States in all their messy, seductive personas. Few books have dealt with the home front during the Vietnam War -- while it was actually occurring -- and Hoyt's novel is a satisfying addition to that short shelf.

Setting it in Hawaii is simply logical, as this was where the two worlds collided. And the book is full of period details such as the University of Hawaii/Oliver Lee case, the gradual proliferation of marijuana as the relaxation drug of choice, early-blooming politicians such as Neil Abercrombie, and the Willows as a hangout for officers.

On the other hand, I don't think the Neal Blaisdell Center was called that in 1968, nor was it all that easy to get a Heineken beer.

Swell. How's the Star-Bulletin stuff?

Hoyt worked there in that time period, and little details -- such as describing how to get from Columbia Inn to the newsroom when you're at a dead run -- are spookily true. The visual image of the newsroom has an authentic, gritty verisimilitude.

The Star-Bulletin staff is treated as a kind of Greek chorus, about evenly split between the forces of change and the powers of continuity. They include some real people and some who are invented, not necessarily to protect the innocent.

Retired reporter Phil Mayer, who's in the book, said he comes across in it as "an aging, blowhard socialist, and that's pretty accurate."

In general, the Star-Bulletin staff in 1968 is portrayed by Hoyt as cynical and naive in equal measure, good-humored and inordinately interested in the sex lives of others, while not gettin' any themselves.

Some things never change, I guess.

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