Barnes, H. Lee 1944–
Barnes, H. Lee 1944–
Born March 15, 1944, in Moscow, ID; son of Vernon H. Barnes (a wheat farmer) and Evelyn Olmstead Harris (a waitress); married Georgia Standish, December 5, 1984 (divorced, August, 1986). Education: Attended Community College of Southern Nevada (now College of Southern Nevada), 1984-87; University of Las Vegas, B.A., 1990; Arizona State University, M.F. A., 1992. Attended Vermont College, 1995. Previously worked as deputy sheriff, narcotics agent, private investigator, construction laborer, and casino employee. Politics: Independent. Religion: Episcopal. Hobbies and other interests: Motorcycles, tennis, martial arts.
Community College of Southern Nevada—Las Vegas, professor of English, 1992—. University of Las Vegas, Las Vegas, NV, adjunct instructor, 1993-96. Military service: U.S. Army, Special Forces, 1963-66, E-6, Vietnamese Gallantry Cross, Combat Infantry Badge.
Associated Writing Programs, Phi Kappa Phi.
Willamette Fiction Award; Arizona Authors Associated Fiction Award.
Gunning for Ho (short stories), University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2000.
Dummy Up and Deal: Inside the Culture of Casino Dealing, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2002.
The Lucky (novel), University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2003.
Talk to Me, James Dean (short stories), Stephens Press (Las Vegas, NV), 2003.
Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans, University of Nevada Press (Reno, NV), 2007.
Deemed "one of today's best, and unjustly obscure, literary war writers" by Las Vegas CityLife Web site writer Jarret Keene, H. Lee Barnes has written acclaimed fiction about the struggles of American veterans to conquer the demons they carry from Vietnam, Iraq, and other recent conflicts. His first book, Gunning for Ho, is a collection of short stories mostly set in Vietnam during the 1960s and early 1970s. Marc Leepson, a contributor to the Vietnam Veterans of America Web site, praised the book for its "precisely drawn, realistic, yet off-kilter main characters" and for original and sometimes surreal plot twists.
Another collection of short stories, Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans, explores similar themes and earned several admiring reviews. According to NewsReview. com writer Cheron Taylor, Barnes creates protagonists in these stories who "have all embarked on journeys that rival the pain and confusion of Odysseus' post-war wanderings." Among these characters is Rodney, an African American Gulf War veteran. As the protagonist of the title story, Rodney has unintentionally bought a house where a serial killer had previously lived. The bodies of the victims begin turning up in Rodney's basement, and his life is tainted in ways that are profoundly unjust. In the story "Punishment," Billy is a Panama veteran on death row for killing a police officer. Keene called this story "Dostoyevskian" in its insight and compassion. As Billy spends his last night before his execution playing cards with his two brothers, his thoughts and feelings convey "all the confusion and grief that makes someone a human being [and] allows the reader to nurture a thimbleful of empathy for a killer."
Leepson stated that the book is "brilliant [and] beautifully rendered," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer appreciated its "understated compassion and unexpected flashes of humor." A writer for Kirkus Reviews, however, called Minimal Damage "drearily serious and overly predictable."
The Lucky, Barnes's debut novel, is a coming-of-age story set in post-World War II Las Vegas, Nevada. The novel follows the fortunes of Peter Elkins, who at age fourteen becomes the ward of casino owner Willy Bobbins, a volatile and semiliterate gambler. Willy hopes that Peter will be all that Willy's own children—a homicidal junkie son and alcoholic daughter—failed to be, and will grow up to help him run his casino, the Lucky. But Peter disappoints his guardian at every turn, becoming a petty thief and killer with no ambition but to drift through life. Describing the novel as an "epic soap opera of deceit, broken dreams and violence," a reviewer for Publishers Weekly found the book to be often grim, but also humorous. Praising Barnes's apt evocations of Las Vegas and its casino culture, Living Las Vegas Web site contributor Megan Edwards wrote that The Lucky is "a treat for those who lived here then and an eye-opener for those who've moved here since."
Barnes has also written a work of nonfiction, Dummy Up and Deal: Inside the Culture of Casino Dealing. He draws on his experiences as a casino employee to provide a look behind the scenes at a job that many people associate with risk and glamour. A Kirkus Reviews contributor felt that the stories in Dummy Up and Deal lack coherence and originality. Casino Gaming writer Howard Schwartz, however, stated that the book "covers the subject like smog over a Southern California freeway." Schwartz added that Barnes "is right, he's pure and he's on target."
H. Lee Barnes told CA: "I think that one of the few things we can be positive about in life is that life converts itself into stories; that which is experienced finds its way into recorded words. Invariably, when I sit down to write I am pressed to do so because of an incurable touch of optimism that convinces me something honest about the human condition will emerge on the page.
"Of all the fine writers I've read, none has influenced me more than John Steinbeck.
"My process is simple: when I have time, I write as if I'm running a marathon; when time is scarce, I make short sprints. I'm a compulsive re-writer.
"I wrote about Vietnam over a period of a year when one story seemed to feed the next. At times I felt I was writing stories for other vets whose words had been silenced for a quarter of a century."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Dummy Up and Deal: Inside the Culture of Casino Dealing, p. 849; August 1, 2007, review of Minimal Damage: Stories of Veterans.
Publishers Weekly, June 16, 2003, review of The Lucky, p. 47; June 4, 2007, review of Minimal Damage, p. 26.
CasinoDealers.net,http://www.dicedealer.com/ (June 25, 2008), Scott Cameron, interview with H. Lee Barnes.
Casino Gaming,http://www.casinogaming.com/ (June 25, 2008), Howard Schwartz, review of Dummy Up and Deal.
High Country News, February 3, 2003, Michelle Nijhuis, review of Dummy Up and Deal.
H. Lee Barnes Home Page,http://hleebarnes.net (June 25, 2008).
Las Vegas CityLife,http://www.lasvegascitylife.com/ (June 25, 2008), Jarret Keene, review of Minimal Damage.
Living Las Vegas,http://living-las-vegas.com/ (June 25, 2008), Megan Edwards, review of The Lucky.
NewsReview.com,http://www.newsreview.com/ (June 25, 2008), Cheron Taylor, review of Minimal Damage.
Vietnam Veterans of America Web site,http://www.vva.org/ (June 25, 2008), Marc Leepson, review of Minimal Damage.