Local author takes on ghosts of war

Canned tuna

La Grande author David Memmott has published a new book about the ways in which the Vietnam War continues to haunt Americans. The book, “Canned Tuna,” two different characters, each in their own time, encounter the ghost of war. Both their lives are changed by something they see but cannot share. In the gulf between their two worlds lives a stark contrast between 1963 and 1969, between the ghost that threatens and the ghost that saves.

Nicolasa Bilbao sustains a serious head injury when his jeep hits a landmine. He is medically discharged. Back home in Boise in 1969, his head injury invites him into therapy at a V.A. clinic. The leader of his therapy group is an ex-Marine named Doc and they plan a hit on the governor. The unplanned outcome of their harmless guerrilla theater causes the group to fracture into factions, lining up behind different ideas of revolution.

Meanwhile, Milo Simonson’s late-adolescent blooming is put on hold by an inexpressible dread. The world around him is breaking down. A dark storm has stalled off the Oregon coast. His home town is experiencing some kind of time slip at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1963. His fragile reality brings him into an uneasy relationship with a mystery resurrected from a watery grave.

Through dark openings in the armor of his characters, Memmott reimagines his ghosts until they become familiar, in the hope that one day he can learn to talk to them without fear.

“We are all victims of some trauma, refugees from somewhere, touched by some form of violence,” he said. “We choose to suffer the greater/lesser ghosts of human imagination in our stories not because they are reality, but because they are removed from reality.”

The novel’s tone is comic and exaggerated. His characters are part of a dream that awakens through tragedy. They represent real people who never thought of themselves as real. Their degrees of flaw give them character.

“All my characters are all composites, pieced together like Frankenstein,” Memmott said in a press release. “I don’t fully control them, but do have a lot of influence in making the way hard for them. That’s why I write, to make the way hard for my characters.”

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