“Phoenix Operator” was a truly unique read for me. What begins as a glimpse into the world of clandestine operations in Vietnam through the eyes of Jack Speer, a young CIA operative on the road to burning-out, takes an unusual twist as he returns to the States on leave and embarks upon a cross-country odyssey, encountering late 60’s cultural touchstones ranging from hippies to New York litterati, and finding friendship and hope along the way before his in-country collision with the Tet Offensive.
Mr. Stevens’ depiction of an ambiguous war framed in lean prose was a great compliment to his portrayal of the wide-open road trip through a changing America; as though he took elements of Hemingway and Kerouac, then forged them into something all his own (and wonderfully running counter to try-hard postwar progressive narratives surrounding the era). It also offered a great surprise in the friendship between Speer and the novelist Nick Wolfe whom he meets along the way. For me, this where the book really shines.
Several times during my reading of “Phoenix Operator” I found myself amazed that this was written by an author still in university, and by the end I was left hopeful to see what he’ll do next.
This was very encouraging, and gave me an immense boost of energy on my current project, which I plan to release later this year.