The Post-War Dream
Mitch Cullin
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Buy *The Post-War Dream* by Mitch Cullin online

The Post-War Dream
Mitch Cullin
Nan A. Talese
256 pages
March 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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This book begins with a curious snowfall. As the delicate white powder spills down upon an unsuspecting desert surrounding the Nine Springs retirement village just outside of Tucson, Arizona, Hollis Adams and his wife, Debra, are destined to live out the waning months of the twentieth century in comfortable and isolated seclusion.

Hollis isn't a terribly reflective man, mainly content to cultivate his cactus garden and drink in his thatched tiki hut by the pool, only occasionally haunted by the flesh and blood of his once torn-apart thigh, reviving the ancient injury caused by a North Korean's man's bullet that ripped into his leg with the throbbing indefinite pain he has felt since.

Debra intermittently takes tai chi and ceramics classes at the Funtivities Center, also occupying herself with escapist fiction. Their beautiful home, situated next to the Nine Springs golf course, has become a refuge from the larger world, a place devoid of fear or of most of life's complications.

When Debra encourages Hollis to write a book chronicling his life, an exercise which she believes will preoccupy the downtime of his retirement and help foster some much needed reflection on his past, Hollis finally begins to ruminate on a fleeting and unspecific world that stretches from Tokyo to Tucson and "a bunch of places in between," even as he fears that all of the little details may be not all that interesting.

Suddenly Hollis and Debra's peaceful world is shattered when a phone call from the Tucson Medical Center delivers some terrible news. Hollis is at first stunned then immobilized by the doctor's diagnosis. The stoic Debra, however, never loses composure, more concerned with figuring out "where we go from here" than resorting to self-pity or panic. But the news remains shocking and suddenly awakens dormant passions within Hollis, the distress of it proving to be almost too much of an intrusion into their contented lives

With his new mission to apply himself to the immediate investigation of his wife's cancer and help her arrange for the appropriate treatments, Hollis finds himself journeying through an emotional doorway that gradually opens his heart to the world of his past. Up until now, he's definitely not been the sort of man who is plagued with flashbacks of the things he's experienced, preferring simply to find solace in the comfort of the occasional drink.

Interlacing the present with the past, author Mitch Cullin writes Hollis's story with a great deal of empathy and compassion, capturing both the innocence of Hollis's youth and the struggles of a young man forced to face the hellish destruction of the Korean War. In this chaotic theater of devastation with the wounded dying, among the charred remnants of bodies, a different type of cancer is unleashed.

This microscopic war quietly rages in the form of the late stage of Debra's disease, with ithe exhaustion of chemotherapy as her cancer continues to mutate and increase, "spreading like dust motes transported in an afternoon breeze." Hollis introduces us to a number of characters who have shaped his life and brought him to this pivotal moment with Debra.

There's the soft-spoken and introverted Chinese American named Schubert Tang whom Hollis forms a friendly attachment with during his time in Korea. Bigoted Bill McCreedy throughout the course of the war most influences Hollis's life. Possessed of an affable yet dominating nature, McCreedy's warm-heartedness unexpectedly masks his tendencies toward cruelty and violence. Only after leaving Korea does Hollis consider McCreedy as both an unwitting benefactor of the fortuitous outcome of his civilian life and the enigmatic symbol of his greatest shame.

Cullin excels in bringing forth the most profound imagery in this novel, writing in a language that speaks almost spiritually to the particular vast Arizona landscapes, "this region of cacti, diamondback, rattlesnakes, and desert." But this book also serves as a poignant and gentle reminder of an ordinary man and his wife caught up in the throes of one of life's greatest challenges: facing death with dignity and bravery.

The journey that Hollis and Debra are forced to take is characterized by the fact that the pursuit of happiness doesn't always come without a price. In the end, it's all part of the fragile fabric of existence, the delicate cycle of life and death forever churning toward its inevitable conclusion, where all things that are born are fated inevitably to move toward their very end.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2008

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