The Five O’Clock Follies
written by Theasa Tuohy
published by Calliope Press
Why did I pick this book: It was outside of my comfort range and I wanted to try something new. (I received a copy of this book for review purposes.)
Did I enjoy this book: Well, friends, that’s a complicated question.
I enjoyed Tuohy’s obvious love of language. I especially liked it when her writing was self-aware — when she had a drunk use the word “fomented,” then a few lines later mocked her own (his own?) use of verbiage. I loved how she lured me in with slow, mundane events until I was hooked, then slammed me with the realities of wartime reporting. I loved the parallels between the evolution of Angela, the protagonist, and the grit of the text.
I did not, however, like the stereotypes: the female who arrives in a war zone wearing heels and a sundress, the Asian who cannot pronounce “l” or “r” (and is written that way), the lone male reporter with the stunted emotional growth… It seemed as if Tuohy decided to write a book about stereotypes, then got distracted by the story she was telling and had to remind herself to write them in. The blatant “woman out of her element” storyline seemed forced, and a bit too obvious, but once she gave up on the idea of the book and started telling the story, Tuohy delivered.
It seemed to me that Tuohy was conflicted; she wanted to write a love story and a non-fiction account of the war, and ended up with an amalgam that was not quite successful at either. Luckily, at least for me, her masterful use of the written word kept me reading to the last page.
Would I recommend it: I’m quite certain I’m not the target audience for this book. Perhaps if I was older – if I’d had to face the blatant sexism Tuohy tried to convey – I would connect more. As a woman in her early thirties, though, I found her descriptions at best difficult to relate to and at worst inappropriately comical. I would not recommend this book to my peer group, but perhaps an older generation would appreciate it more than I.
Will I read it again: No.
About the book – from Goodreads: In her brilliant debut novel, longtime daily journalist Theasa Tuohy captures the essence of what drives those who go into war armed only with a camera, notebook, and pen. In the fast pace of explosive romance and gritty adventure, The Five O’Clock Follies explores the serious issues of the Vietnam War, the role of the press and what a long way female correspondents have come in forty years. At a time when women rarely dreamed beyond careers as nurses, teachers or secretaries and certainly not as news reporters, a tall, enigmatic redhead arrives in Saigon. She is an object of great interest to the male correspondents, one of whom reports she arrived at Tan Son Nhut Airport wearing “high heeled bikini shoes.” Few take her seriously as a reporter. To most, she is a trifle, a bobble, a lagniappe. Angela Martinelli survives a chopper crash, spends several days in the bunkers of the so-called Alamo Hilton during the siege of Khe Sanh, is captured briefly by the Viet Cong while trying to make her own way to the battle of Hue after being refused a hop on a military chopper because she isn’t male, and finally is badly wounded when a jeepload of other correspondents are killed in Cholon, the Chinese quarter of Saigon. Her life, loves and struggle to prove herself chronicle the deterioration of the war, the strategic battles around the Tet offensive, and the conflict raging back home over the conduct of the war.