Veteran newsman and acclaimed novelist Jim Lehrer exposes worlds both intimate and universal, builds suspense with an accomplished hand, and reveals a savvy understanding of the modern social landscape. With The Phony Marine, Lehrer dives into a highly controversial topic-and delivers his most compelling character portrait to date. Hugo Marder is about as unremarkable as they come. On the floor of the Washington, D.C., branch of Nash Brothers, one of the country's most respected men's stores, Hugo is a wise, reserved salesman. At home, he is a solitary, divorced fifty-year-old with few friends and an eBay addiction. But he has always wanted to make more of his life, dreaming of becoming an artist or a cartoonist. When he was younger, he'd always wanted to be a marine. Late one night, Hugo stumbles upon an online auction for a Silver Star, the medal awarded for bravery in battle. He bids and wins. But it is only after he places the lapel pin on his jacket that he realizes the enormity of his actions.
The uncharacteristically impulsive online purchase of a Silver Star medal once belonging to a marine lieutenant sets Hugo Marder, a successful middle-aged suit salesman at an upmarket Washington, D.C., store, on the path to his 15 minutes of fame in PBS's News Hour anchor Lehrer's 16th novel. Once Marder starts wearing the medal's accompanying lapel button in public, he receives deferential treatment from everybody he meets, spurring him to forge an alternate persona: he shaves his head, starts working out, trains himself to think the way he thinks a marine would think and, most importantly, learns to cuss. Things get hairy when he runs into his ex-wife, Emily, while on jury duty. She's on to his deception, but his heroic actions during a courthouse shooting propel him to instant fame. Ever ambitious, she attaches her wagon to his rising star and floats the idea of getting married again. As Hugo accumulates an ever larger entourage of admirers and his public stock rises, his conscience gets louder and louder. Lehrer, himself a former marine, does an admirable job of creating a pathetic yet sympathetic character in Hugo, though the supporting cast is emotionally anemic and exists solely to push Hugo along on his journey of self-discovery and self-deception. Lehrer's fans will appreciate his latest, but it may be too simple a yarn to attract new readers. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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November 06, 2006
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Excerpt from The Phony Marine by Jim Lehrer
Hugo Marder returned to his Dupont Circle town house to find two small packages among the normal clutter of mail. There was also a D.C. superior court jury summons.
Both of the boxes were book-size "Fly Like an Eagle" Priority Mail boxes from the U.S. Postal Service. He knew they were eBay auction purchases.
The return address on one signaled that a pair of cuff links were inside that featured a plastic-enclosed miniature black-and-white photo of Mike Nichols on one, Elaine May on the other. Hugo had paid fifty-one dollars, plus five dollars for shipping and insurance. He had truly loved Nichols and May's humor when he was in college in the sixties, but it was their pictures on cuff links that interested him now. Hugo was a collector of antique and unusual cuff links, a hobby that had sprung naturally out of his early interest in graphics and, now, from his work at Nash Brothers, America's leading merchant of quality men's clothes.
It was the other package that really interested him. He knew what was in it, too, because it came from "J. Wayne, 134 West Mistletoe, San Diego, California."
He first took a hard look at the jury notice and, after noting the summons date to be four weeks away, carried it with the San Diego box to his desk in the den. He wrote the court day in his calendar and clipped the printed notice to the page. He knew the district's juror drill, having been called three times to serve.
Then he picked up the package.
His hands shook slightly as he ripped back the box lid. He was not usually a person who quivered and shook with emotional anticipationýnot on birthdays or Christmas mornings as a kid, or even before marrying or divorcing Emily.
He retrieved a clump of bubble wrap. The case was down there inside the bubbles. He could see it.
The wrap came off easily, and suddenly he was holding the case in his two hands.
It resembled a jewelry box, about seven inches long, three and a half or so wide, maybe an inch thick. As the auction description had said, the case was covered in imitation black leather with two wavy gold-leaf lines around the edge, a half inch apart, creating a frame effect. In the center, also in gold, were the words SILVER STAR MEDAL.
"Silver Star medal," he read out loud. And then, as if making an announcement on a train station PA, he said again, "Silver Star medal."
Here was a Silver Star medal. He was holding a case with a Silver Star medal inside.
Hugo lifted the lid, which was lined in off-white silk.
There was a tiny metal lapel button.
A small rectangle ribbon for regular uniform use.
And then the real medalýthe pendant and full ribbon.
The auction listing had said only that the lapel pin appeared to have never been taken out of its case and that all three items were in excellent condition. That had certainly turned out to be true.
They were mounted on a bed of peach-colored felt. They were perfect.