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The Cat from Hue: A Vietnam War Story, On Whale Island: Notes from a Place I Never Meant to Leave, Shakey: Neil Young's Biography

Laurence brought MŠo home to the States, where he lived into old age, although he remained feisty and cagey to the end.

"The Cat from Hue" is about what the war did to him, to the troops who fought it and to the American psyche. It is a riveting tale of courage, frustration, anger, recovery and redemption. It reads like a novel, with truth as its core sorrow.

Laurence was the best broadcast correspondent of the Vietnam War. His strength was his empathy for the men who did the work of war with their hands and his willingness to risk all to tell their stories. Today, as he writes in his conclusion, it might be time to say that our anguish has been exhausted. But Laurence knows that he internalized the war, as he believed MŠo had done. "I suspect that in this I may not be alone."

He is doubtless not alone, but his bravery in peeling back the layers of his own scars, and ours, has given birth to a book that is superb. — Don Dale

A Whale of a Tale

After writing his first book with his father, Daniel Hays went the way of Thoreau with his second book, "On Whale Island: Notes from a Place I Never Meant to Leave" (Algonquin Books, $22.95), and decided to isolate himself from mankind for a year. With the proceeds from the first book, Hays bought an island for too much money and built a house there with his father. When he tired of city life, he moved his wife, his adolescent stepson and their two dogs to the island, which lies off the coast of Nova Scotia. They would be the "Swiss Family Robinson," but with access to society when it was needed.

The book is primarily written in diary format, and Hays leans heavily on Thoreau's "Walden," prefacing most of the chapters with an excerpt from Thoreau's book. Hays even wraps up the book with a list of consumables that were required throughout the year. There is a prevalent DIY motif throughout the book: the house that shelters the Hays family, the repairs and improvements that are made, and the various apparatus that were built out of items that washed up on the shore. For instance, Hays refers often to a sink made from the jawbone of a whale.

There is also a heavy psychological element in the book. I would say that it lends itself to the solitary nature of his surroundings, but that is never the case because his family is always there and they are often the subject of his entries as he examines the interactions. Every event, argument and emotional breakthrough is discussed in introspective detail. Though at times frustrating and unpleasant, Hays is able to deal with family issues and sometimes even learn from them. Is this the way that humans used to deal with each other, instead of escaping to the mall, the computer or the television? I applaud Hays for confronting his problems, and for writing a book that is sometimes witty, sometimes embarrassing for him, but always honest. — Timothy Lutero

The Young Story

The devoted effort in "Shakey: Neil Young's Biography" (Random House, $29.95) by Jimmy McDonough — six years, 300 Young associates interviewed, 50 hours with Young alone — is impressive and captivating, making the book a pretty quick read. In fact, I had a hard time staying away from it. And it's not just about Neil Young. This book tells the story of Buffalo Springfield, of Crosby Stills Nash & Young, of Crazy Horse. It chronicles Young's childhood battle with polio and his parent's divorce. It follows Young as he doggedly pursues his vision, from band to band and town to town, ultimately leaving Canada and heading for Los Angeles. It tracks Young by album, group and producer — providing a fascinating timeline, and a real glimpse into how rock 'n' roll unfolded. It gets to Pearl Jam, Kurt Cobain's suicide and Ragged Glory and Harvest Moon before it's done.

But the story of Neil Young is about much more than just the music. We see Young's prescient — and fierce — business acumen. We see his devotion to his family, and especially to the special needs of one of his sons. We see his struggles — early in his career - with epilepsy, and the regular seizures that would abruptly end shows. We learn of his fascination with automobiles, and especially with Lionel trains — like Victor Kiam and Remington razors, he liked 'em so much he bought the company. We learn about Young's unrelenting need for control of the artistic process, of his inability to leave well enough alone when the bones of a recording have been laid down, of his mercurial temperament.

McDonough writes well. He's mostly a concise storyteller, moving things along, setting up the hundreds of quotes, and yet he can paint a picture without losing his flow, and turn critical enough to differentiate convincingly between the highs and lows of Young's efforts. On a stylistic note, the book puts Young's words in italics always — which really worked for me, making it easy to know when Neil was talking. My only critique is that McDonough tossed in too much opinion about some of Young's albums — putting some on a pedestal and dismissing others. That seemed more the role of a music critic than a biographer, and McDonough's risen way above that with this effort. — Andy Garrigue


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