[This review intially posted on 18 Jan 2012.]
Okay, here’s the premise of John O’Brien’s The Assault on Tony’s.
A handful of rich Republican alcoholics stop in at their favorite bar near the country club to ride out a riot. They all arrive at the bar with a couple of weapons—a Glock, a Walther, a couple of Dirty Harry .44 Magnums, a Beretta 92F. Apparently they’re always packing, but now they’re packing double and thank goodness, because the riot soon turns into Armageddon.
The entire novel takes place in the bar, except for a brief recon action to the guys’ Mercedes, Caddy, Lexus and whatnot to restock their ammo from the permanent stash each keeps in his car.
The novel plays out like one of those World War II movies they made in the 60s, just before the Viet Nam war heated up and people got sick of the genre for a while. There’s Langston, the most addicted of the bunch, the guy who gets blinded in the first battle. (Remember Donald Pleasence in The Great Escape, who forges all the documents, goes blind, and then gets led on the prison break by James Garner, literally by the hand?) There’s Fenton, the loyal lieutenant. The obligatory idiots who can’t follow orders are Miles and Osmond. (You know they’re idiots right away because they drink the wrong Scotch or drive the wrong car.)
There’s a bleeding heart liberal, Casey, who shows up midway for the mandatory philosophical debate. There’s a resentful busboy in the prisoner-of-war role, glowering at them all from the kitchen. There’s even a waitress, Jill, to pass out sexual favors to the guys.
And in the John Wayne role is Rudd, who spends the entire novel contemplating his manliness and leadership qualities and status at the local country club. All that’s missing is the big lug with the puppy in his breast pocket.
What a hoot!
As in Leaving Las Vegas, O’Brien’s first published novel (and a much better book), the most interesting part of the novel is the characters’ obsession with alcohol. The novel opens right after a bomb attack that has shaken all the bottles of liquor off the shelves, leaving the guys with only three fifths of J&B and a bottle of raspberry liqueur (seventy-six proof) to ward off the DTs. Through the entire novel they are fighting off the early stages of withdrawal, and living for the glorious moment when they get their daily ration. The book keeps you reading in dread with only one question in mind: What will happen when the booze runs out?
When the electricity goes out and the water from the tap starts to smell bad, there is still no sign of the cavalry. Rudd gives the order on how to split up the final ration. Then:
Fenton opens his mouth in protest then thinks better of it. After all, this is where we’re at and there’s nothing else left to do. Miles is quiet too, what with Rudd agreeing to divvy up the J&B. Fair’s fair. It had to come to an end, that much they knew. They regard this . . . this end as men facing their own death, marooned derelicts splitting the last bits of food, any hope of rescue long gone, starvation imminent. They sit together, still for a moment. Still except for the random gunfire, which they have all but ceased to care about.
The Assault on Tony’s would have made a great drive-in movie, like Roger Corman’s unforgettable Last Woman on Earth, about the last woman and two men on the Earth after a nuclear holocaust or whatever. (An entire planet to have fun with, and what do the idiots do but fight over the girl?)
I skimmed large chunks of this novel that were apparently written by O’Brien’s sister Erin after his death. (Erin has provided a touching Afterword for the book.) She completed the unfinished work based on his notes, and it’s easy to tell where O’Brien stops and Sis starts. As flawed a writer as O’Brien was, he can be thrilling to read when he’s writing about addiction.
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