"Never get out of the boat. Absolutely goddamn right. Unless you were goin' all the way." This snippet of voiceover from Apocalypse Now, written by Michael Herr, suggests the harrowing prospect of transition: from sanity to insanity, from the fevered conditions of war to the dull rigors of normal society. It could just as well be a word of advice from one highly regarded Vietnam writer to another, a warning that what works in the jungle doesn't necessarily work in the suburbs. After a series of celebrated books about the Vietnam experience (Going After Cacciato, The Things They Carried, In The Lake Of The Woods), author Tim O'Brien attempted to go cold turkey with his last novel, Tomcat In Love, a shaggy-dog comedy that earned a tepid reception. At the very least, O'Brien's July, July seems like a more sensible transition: It features a group of aging Baby Boomers who are haunted by the great event of their generation, among other unrelenting personal demons. But like a lot of Vietnam writers, O'Brien has a weakness for overheated prose that doesn't translate readily to the everyday, nor do the book's sweeping generalities offer much in the way of subtle portraiture. Even the premise is conveniently symbolic: Due to a clerical error too absurd to dignify with an explanation, the Class Of '69 holds its 30th reunion one year late, placing it squarely in the daunting frame of the new millennium. In the three decades since their graduation from Darton Hall—a small liberal-arts college in Minnesota—a group of old friends have allowed their flower-child idealism to slide into oblivion, the end sum of grappling with aging, death, multiple divorces, empty careerism, deferred dreams, and countless disappointments. With an absurd amount of emotional baggage, they drag themselves back for a weekend of debauchery and reminiscence, igniting old flames and unearthing resentments that remain fresh after all those years. (Call it The Biggest Chill or Return Of The Secaucus Eight.) Weaving skillfully from past to present, O'Brien breaks away from the weekend in progress to the characters' individual histories, putting their current tensions into a richer context. The war figures heavily in a few relationships, including those of a physically and psychically wounded veteran whose intense devotion to his wife was met with apathy, and a draft-dodger who fled to Winnipeg under the assumption that his girlfriend would follow, which she never did. Divorce has exacted a toll on most of the characters, but in the case of one woman who managed to keep two husbands (one official, one nominal) for more than 15 years, so has marriage. In the most affecting thread, an overweight mop magnate, living on borrowed time after his umpteenth bypass, finally gets a chance to score with a free-spirited woman he's fantasized about through a litany of bitter relationships. O'Brien's flair for operatic emotion keeps the pages turning, but since he isn't content with the modest scope of domestic melodrama, his poor characters are swelled with "significance" and then flattened by the weight of his ambition. Painted in broad strokes, July, July is guilty of trafficking not only in clichés, but in clichés about a generation of damaged souls that's received several times its fair share of navel-gazing remembrances.