Tomcat in Love

O'Brien, Tim

Published by Broadway Books, 1998
ISBN 10: 0767902025 / ISBN 13: 9780767902021
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First Printing of the stated First Edition. Signed by Tim O'Brien directly on the title page. Book and dust jacket in fine, as new condition. Bookseller Inventory #

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Synopsis: A wildly funny, brilliantly inventive novel about a man torn between two obsessions: the desperate need to win back his former wife and a craving to test his erotic charms on every woman he meets.

He is 6'6" tall, a cross between Ichabod Crane and Abe Lincoln. He is a professor of linguistics, bewitched by language, deluded about his ability to win the hearts of women with his erudition and physical appeal. He is Thomas H. Chippering, a.k.a. Tomcat, a masterly addition to the pantheon of unforgettable characters in American fiction.

And in his private dictionary of love, three entries stand out.

Tampa. Just the word makes Tom Chippering's blood curdle. That's where his ex-wife, the faithless Lorna Sue, now lives with a suntanned tycoon whose name Chippering refuses to utter.

Revenge. If Chippering can't get Lorna Sue back, at least he can wreak havoc with her new marriage. (How about some strategically placed lingerie in the tycoon's "ostentatiously upscale Mercedes"?) He also has plans for Lorna Sue's brother, Herbie, with whom she has always had an unnaturally close relationship.

Love. His ex-wife may have disapproved, but is Chippering's fondness for women--especially the nubile coeds who attend his classes--really so wrong? And now love finds a new form: Mrs. Robert Kooshof, the attractive, demanding, and, of course, already married woman who may at last satisfy Chippering's longing for intimacy.

Tim O'Brien--acclaimed for his fiction about the Vietnam War--has now taken on the battle between the sexes with astonishing results. By turns hilarious, outrageous, romantic, and deeply moving, Tomcat in Love gives us a blundering, modern-day Don Juan who embodies the desires and bewilderments of men everywhere.

Review: To date, Tim O'Brien's novels have all shared common traits: his heroes hail from the Midwest, usually Minnesota; Vietnam figures prominently; and the stories he tells, though invested with mordant wit, are usually pretty grim. So an O'Brien fan coming to Tomcat in Love on the heels of his earlier novels can be forgiven for occasionally checking the name on the cover (and the photo on the dust jacket) just to be sure this is, indeed, the same Tim O'Brien who wrote Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried, If I Die in a Combat Zone, and In the Lake of the Woods.

In Tomcat in Love O'Brien introduces us to a very different hero: "In summary, then, my circumstances were these. Something over forty-nine years of age. Recently divorced. Pursued. Prone to late-night weeping. Betrayed not once but threefold: by the girl of my dreams, by her Pilate of a brother, and by a Tampa real-estate tycoon whose name I have vowed never again to utter." Thomas H. Chippering, professor of linguistics, war hero, and sex magnet--in his own mind, at least, has recently lost his childhood sweetheart and wife of 20 years to another man, the Tampa magnate, and Lorna Sue's desertion has clearly unhinged him. He has taken to flying down to Tampa from Minnesota on weekends to spy on his ex-wife and plot revenge against her, the tycoon, and Lorna Sue's brother, Herbie, whom he blames for destroying his marriage.

Thomas, Lorna Sue, and Herbie go back a long way together, bound equally by ties of love, guilt, and suspicion. Dating from the afternoon young Herbie nailed an even younger Lorna Sue's hand to a makeshift cross, Thomas has occupied a kind of emotional no man's land between the two: "In my bleakest moods, when black gets blackest, I think of it as a high perversion: Herbie coveted his own sister. Which is a fact. The stone truth. He was in love with her. More generously, I will sometimes concede that it was not sexual love, or not entirely, and that Herbie was driven by the obsessions of a penitent, a torturer turned savior. Partly, too, I am quite certain that Herbie secretly associated me with his own guilt. I was present at the beginning. My backyard, my plywood, my green paint."

Chippering takes his revenge to hilarious lengths, starting with a purple leather bra and panties stuffed beneath the seat of the tycoon's car and escalating from there. But even as he attempts to wreak havoc in his ex-wife's life, he succeeds in laying ruin to his own. His self-proclaimed irresistibility to women gets him in hot water with both his female students and his administration; his obsession with Lorna Sue threatens his budding romance with Mrs. Robert Kooshof, a woman who loves him as his wife never did--and, oh yes, there's that little matter of the squad of Green Berets he crossed many years before in Vietnam who may or may not be hunting him down.

Once you get over the shock of this new, funny Tim O'Brien, traces of the writer you thought you knew begin to surface. Chippering might be a pompous, overbearing windbag, but you can't trust him any more than you did any of O'Brien's other earthier, equally unreliable narrators. In one breath, he tells us, "I must in good conscience point out that women find me attractive beyond words. And who on earth could blame them?" In the next he describes himself as resembling "a clean-shaven version of our sixteenth president." Half the fun of reading Tomcat in Love is trying to sort out just how much of what Thomas H. Chippering tells us is true. Stellar writing, a brilliant cast of characters, and a sly, surprising story that breaks your heart one minute and tickles your funny bone the next all make Tim O'Brien's first foray into the comic novel a resounding success. --Alix Wilber

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Tomcat in Love
Publisher: Broadway Books
Publication Date: 1998
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition

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