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Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008

Tumbling Through Time

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Despitethe discouraging consensus that the hand of fate is heavy and immovable, how many of us daydream about what we may have done differently if we could go back in time? For the central character of Phil Nero’s first fiction book, Twice Upon a Time, time travel is not an idle dream but a reality. An accident sends him tumbling more than 30 years back in time to the winter of 1970. The auspicious circumstance allows the jaded Army colonel to slowly remove the unyielding armor of an emotionally conflicted life and tap into his pliant human core, coaxed by a colorful cast of hippies.

He isn’t the only one forced to reassess his present by delving into the past. Nero engages readers in a political dj vu, drawing clear parallels between the war in Iraq and Vietnam. “As someone who grew up in that era, I look at Vietnam and I look at Iraq and I say, ‘How could we do the same thing again?’” Nero says, voicing the incredulity of countless others.

Nero admits that the late-’60s and ’70s unfurled their own set of destabilizing events— notably, the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and the Kennedys—yet he believes there was a prevalent mood of optimism at the time. “That kind of youthful optimism, I think it exists today in a different form. You can’t kill that,” Nero says. “It was just more prevalent then. The media wasn’t so corporately owned, a wider cast of music was out there—it was just a different time.”

His book also draws parallels between the experiences of soldiers stationed in Vietnam and Iraq. “Not every soldier who goes over there says, ‘We’re going here for these blackand-white reasons.’ Not every soldier is a warrior at his or her core. They’re people, like me and you,” Nero says.

Though he states his support for U.S. troops in Iraq, Nero says the reason some soldiers are in the military is often less ideological and more economical. “The military is a way out and a way up for some poorer people,” he says. “They’re buying into how the Army is marketed: an Army of one; the few and the proud.”

Nero comes to Harry W. Schwartz Bookshop in Shorewood on Thursday, Jan. 24, at 7 p.m. Limber up for Woodland Pattern’s Annual Poetry Marathon on Saturday, Jan. 26, from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. The event begins with an hour of children’s readings, followed by more than 100 adult readings, each of which raises funds benefiting Woodland Pattern’s programs.

To sign up for the few available reading spots call 263-5001 or go to www.woodlandpattern.org. Admission is $8 for the general public; $7 for students and seniors; $6 for members. Free entry if you’re sponsoring someone for $35 or more.