The Serpent Papers
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About the Author
NOVELIST DELIVERS AUTHENTIC, INTENSE TALE OF COMING OF AGE IN VIETNAM ERA
Review by Jay Strafford
The first wave of Baby Boomers-now in their 60s and 70s-came of age during the Vietnam era, a seminal epoch for them, a defining one for the nation. Many novelists have explored that experience, but few as perceptively and personally as does Jeff Schnader in The Serpent Papers.
Son of a bullying admiral and an alcoholic mother, protective elder brother to a severely hearing-impaired boy, abuse victim of Catholic school nuns, Joseph "J-Bee" Bell grows up in Norfolk.
His best friend, Gilbert "Gilly" O'Daly, volunteers for Vietnam. But J-Bee chooses to enroll at Columbia University in 1971. Among others, he meets Margo, a senior, waitress and political activist; Billy, a gentle hippie; Bloom, a World War II veteran; Milo, a privileged preppy and an incipient drug lord; and the Serpent, who holds forth on the war while concealing his identity behind a screen at a campus hangout.
"I had one foot in the world of my fathers, the bastion of the military and the Catholic Church," J-Bee tells us, "and the other foot out of the box in a land I had yet to recognize fully, the rarefied realm of ivory towers where professors smoked pipes and conjectured, everything lost in a smoggy haze of thought, a citadel of turbulent intellect and ideology."
Worlds collide, especially when Gilly, on furlough, visits J-Bee in New York City. What follows is the climax to a tale rendered with intensity of purpose, vigor of prose, authenticity of time and place, and depth of characterization, particularly that of J-Bee.
Schnader, a resident of Norfolk and a graduate of Columbia, draws heavily on history and personal experience in "The Serpent Papers," his first full-length novel. He's also a professor of medicine and a physician who has worked in hospitals for veterans.
As he develops the events that lead to J-Bee's ultimate decision of whether to become a warrior (he has a penchant for violence) or a protester (he embraces many facets of the counterculture), Schnader engages the reader in J-Bee's struggle of conscience with telling detail and emotional impact.
At once alarming and astute, The Serpent Papers coils within the reader's mind and strikes with precision.
"A great read! Interesting and captivating! A vivid story of coming of age in the Vietnam era - politics and protests, a cynical drug culture, military misadventure and making love, not war. If you were really there and do not remember... you will now."