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“McCoy looked at his watch.  Quarter past eight.  The call had come in just before six last night, so fifteen hours or so she had been missing.  The time for her to have got lost or stayed at a pal’s was long gone.  A thirteen-year-old girl doesn’t go missing for fifteen hours, overnight, without something being very, very wrong.”

cover bobby marchThirty-year-old Harry McCoy, a member of the Glasgow polis, is about to have a week to end all weeks.  From July 13, 1973  to July 21, 1973, he will be busy twenty-four hours a day with a series of heinous crimes that will take him from investigations in his native Glasgow to Belfast and back.   Several missing persons and some grisly murders, which seem to be the most efficient way to solve difficult problems among the various crime lords of Glasgow, will keep him and his fellow officers so busy they rarely have time to drink, socialize, or experiment with substances.  Only a few hours (and ten pages) after thirteen-year-old Alice Kelly disappears, McCoy discovers the body of musician Bobby March, “the best guitarist of his generation,” a man who was not only asked to join the Rolling Stones, but said “no, thank you” to the offer.  “Twenty-seven,” McCoy announces, “Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison,” and now Bobby March.  “All twenty-seven when they died,”  – and all died from drug-related causes.

The sad area of Govan, where a Scandinavian photographer records the poverty.

The sad area of Govan, where a Scandinavian photographer records the poverty.

McCoy will not be heading up the murder investigation and the disappearance, however.  The “big boss,” Chief Inspector Murray has been reassigned for the next six months, and Det. Sgt. Bernie Raeburn, an aggressive officer who despises McCoy, will be in charge.  Because he wants to manage the cases getting the most publicity, Raeburn takes those cases and assigns McCoy to investigate some old robberies.  When Chief Inspector Murray returns for a quick visit, however, he seeks out McCoy. His fifteen-year-old niece Laura has disappeared, and he is hoping that McCoy, acting quietly,  “under the radar,” will be able to locate her without causing any publicity which might damage his brother John’s potential run for MP the following year. McCoy soon discovers that Laura is involved with a young crime lord who is including her in his very dangerous life.  Other investigations show that Alice Kelly, the missing thirteen-year-old, has had some problems of her own, and that a young man who has seen her alive is being implicated, perhaps wrongly, in her disappearance.  Keeping him occupied away from the crimes, a young woman from Scandinavia, anxious to take photographs of the saddest, most pathetic, sections of Glasgow, makes McCoy’s acquaintance, and their trips through Glasgow add to the dark atmosphere and the tension which is further aggravated by the intense July heat.

Autor Alan Parks

Author Alan Parks

Author Alan Parks, whose two previous “tartan noir” novels were highly successful, keeps the focus on the action here, rather than on character development, and the action, often morbidly violent, never lets up.  Only McCoy shows any personal development – a basically thoughtful person who tries to do what is right, despite complex issues involving others he works with.  McCoy is no saint, and he makes mistakes and bad choices, often revealing himself as more of an anti-hero than hero. As more grim murders take place, Glasgow itself becomes the 1970s version of hell on earth for the reader.  Park’s sense of description never fails him, be it description of the horrors of some of the places where the action takes place, or the action itself, and though he does not go into psychological detail about his characters – other than, loosely, with McCoy – his physical descriptions of at least one of the characters is especially memorable. On a visit to a hospital, for example, he observes that “The doctor looked more like some sort of woodland creature.  McCoy had never seen so much hair on a man in his life.  Auburn it was, too, It was poking out from under his shirt cuffs, his collar, one big eyebrow right across his brow.  He scratched his nose and McCoy noticed it was all over his hands too.  The man looked like a ginger werewolf.”

British soldier on patrol in Belfast.

British soldier on patrol in Belfast.

The world-wide effects of some of the criminal activity in Glasgow are further developed within the novel when McCoy goes to Belfast in an episode related to the father of Alice, the little girl who has been missing.  Irish paramilitaries with connections to Glasgow are involved in the drug trade and the financing of some of the crime in Glasgow, and the widening scope of what was originally a local set of crimes becomes obvious.  On his return to Glasgow, the action ratchets up even more, and one to one face-offs, involving McCoy and his enemies are presented in vivid,  often horrific detail.  Death is the desired outcome by all participants against their opponents, and they will stop at nothing to succeed in their own goals.  The conclusion is, indeed, a conclusion on every level.

Keith Richards, Rolling Stones, who encouraged Bobby March to join the group.

Keith Richards, Rolling Stones, who encouraged Bobby March to join the group.

A Side Note:  Author Alan Parks has had a long career in the music industry, and it shows here.  In one of the more intriguing features of this novel, Parks sandwiches the dated and italicized memories of guitarist Bobby March, beginning in 1964, among the eight days of the action here from July 13, 1973, through July 21, 1973.  Eventually, the past and present congeal in August, 1973.  Here Bobby March comments on the rock life of the sixties and seventies, including some thoughts about Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones.  On August 25, 1970, Bobby concludes his memories, chatting casually with a drug dealer before going to the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles.  When asked what is on the program there, he tells the dealer that he’ll be seeing “Some English guy.  Meant to be good.  The whole town’s going…John somebody.  I think.”  A further note:  On August 25, 1970, Elton John had his first performance  in the United States at the Troubadour, a life-changing experience for him, the beginning of his world career, and a bit of commentary that adds a little fun to this darkly ironic narrative.  https://www.highdefwatch.com

ALSO by Parks:  BLOODY JANUARY

elton john 8_25_70Photos:   The sad photo of poor children is found on https://www.dailymail.co.uk

The author’s photo is from https://www.europaeditions.com

The British soldier in Belfast appears in https://www.alamy.com

The Keith Richards photo may be found on https://www.pinterest.com

Elton John at the Troubadour and a story which accompanies it are from https://www.highdefwatch.com

BOBBY MARCH WILL LIVE FOREVER
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Historical, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Mystery, Thriller, Noir, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Alan Parks
Published by: Europa
Date Published: 04/06/2021
ISBN: 978-1609456856
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

Julia Alvarez–AFTERLIFE

Note:  AFTERLIFE was declared a Best Book of 2020 by Kirkus Reviews, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and many other review sites.

“Can you help me find him?/  a new life awaiting her / Can you help me find him? a mystery she cannot by any means solve / nevertheless, she keeps asking / Where are you? / as this is the only way she knows / Can you help me find him/ ? how to create an afterlife for him/

cover alvarez afterlifeIntroducing the event which begins all the physical and emotional action of Afterlife, author Julia Alvarez shows devoted wife Antonia waiting for her husband Sam, who has been dying alone of a heart attack in the minutes that she has been waiting to join him at a restaurant.  And when she finally receives word of his passing, her primary focus is on how to create an afterlife for him, something that will enable her to relive memories and past events with him.  She tries to keep to her routines in rural Vermont, where she lives, “walking the narrow path through the loss, not allowing her thoughts to stray,” but in the middle of the night, “she finds herself at the outer edge where, in the old maps, the world drops off, and beyond is terra incognita, sea serpents, and the Leviathan.”  Her nearest neighbor, Roger, offers to help her clear the gutters of her house, and soon she is visited by Mario, a young, undocumented worker from Mexico who works on Roger’s farm.  Since Antonia is a native of the Dominican Republic who immigrated as a child, she can speak with Mario easily, and when he finishes clearing the gutters, he asks for a favor – Will she please help him call his girlfriend who is now in the US but far away from him?

Ricardo Chub-Bo, 40, and his daughter Rosa Maria, 14, from Poptun in El Petun department, Guatemala, board the Greyhound bus they will take to Albuquerqe before their three-day journey through the United States to Philadelphia on January 3, 2019 in Dona Ana, New Mexico. - They spent eight days in migration detention and were released with a group of about 20 Central American migrants to the Basilica of San Albino in Mesilla, New Mexico, which provided them hospitality the night of their release. Ricardo relies on his daughter to help read letters and numbers, while she relies on him to communicate in Spanish, as she still isnt used to speaking it. The two speak to each other in their mother tongue of K'iche', a Maya language spoken in the central highlands of Guatemala. The church had provided them with a piece of paper that asks for help finding the connection in English and a phone number to call if they need help. For them, luckily, they ran into another group of Guatemalans going on the same bus, which they could team up with in case they had trouble. (Photo by Paul Ratje / AFP) (Photo credit should read PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

The “coyote” hired to bring Estela to Vermont refuses to put her on the bus without more money. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

Developing her themes of love and loss in life and death as they affect Antonia, Julia Alvarez, originally from the Dominican Republic, creates several subplots involving other characters, all reflecting powerful emotions without descending into sentimentality or maudlin self-analysis.  Mario, his girlfriend Estela, and José, his fellow worker on Roger’s farm, are one plot, dealing with the problems of illegal immigrants desperate to create new lives in the US.  The second plot line revolves around a get-together of Antonia and her three sisters at a BnB in Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday. The failure of sister Izzy to appear for the celebration, as promised, becomes the all-consuming issue for the other sisters for many days, and the need for Antonia to be present as they and the police all search for Izzy force her to be out of state at a time when some of the issues involving Mario and his undocumented girlfriend back in Vermont are becoming critical. Despite all the money Mario has sent to the “coyote” who was supposed to bring her to Vermont, Estela was left in the South, penniless and pregnant.  Abandonment, betrayal, the sadness of loss, anger, the recognition that there is a difference between acting from a sense of obligation and acting by choice, and the personal growth which enables characters to tell the difference further develop the original themes of love and loss and flesh out this dramatic and sensitive novel.

Trailer home of Mario and Jose on Roger's farm.

Trailer home of Mario and Jose on Roger’s farm.

Though loss by death is the loss felt most powerfully by Antonia at the beginning of the novel, other losses faced by other characters teach her much about dealing with the aftereffects as she works to become a whole person again.  Always, she is thinking about the Afterlife and what it means.  When Antonia returns home temporarily from the sisters’ “reunion,” with sister Izzy still missing, she is shocked to find that Estela, Mario’s now ex-girlfriend, is sleeping in her garage.  As Antonia tries to arrange for a place for Estela to stay, Roger, the farmer next door, is also facing difficulties.  Mario and José live in a trailer on his property, but no one wants Estela there.  Estella is only seventeen, and her situation (and homeowner Roger’s) will become even more complicated if the Immigration authorities discover her presence.  When a local policeman tips off Antonia regarding a possible raid about to happen in their town, Antonia is on high alert, particularly nervous when someone suggests that she act as “emergency guardian” to Estela.

The Open Door health clinic in rural Vermont, where Antonia finds help for Estela.

The Open Door Clinic in rural Vermont, where Antonia finds help for Estela.

With the on-going situation with her missing sister Izzy still a priority for Antonia, she slowly reaches a point at which she realizes that she cannot do it all.  With Estela’s baby due any minute, she seeks necessary help with that issue at a clinic run by a doctor friend of her husband Sam, gaining a bit of much needed breathing room.  Eventually, the situation with Izzy, too, reaches a conclusion, allowing Antonia some time to recover from Sam’s death and try to get her own life in order.  It is refreshing for the reader to discover that despite all the emergencies and trauma Antonia has faced, first, regarding her own life;  secondly, through the lives of Mario, Estela, and the baby; and, finally, through the complexities of her family life with Izzy and her other two sisters, that she is strong enough to power through on her own.  She recognizes what she can and cannot do, and she does not hesitate to say no now when it seems to her to be the best answer.  She is working toward helping those she knows but recognizes that it is her responsibility to take care of herself, too.

Kintsugi

Kintsugi

The resolution, after all the tensions and traumas that Antonia has faced, feels absolutely right – no wildly improbable decisions by Antonia, no sudden twists of fate, and no new elements added to the on-going stories.  When she makes her biggest decision, she asks herself, “What is the right thing to do? The certainty is not there.  What lies beyond the narrow path, the nibble, the sip, where the dragons be?”  The Epilogue, which takes place at the end of the summer, provides a fuller answer.  Antonia is taking a course in kintsugi, “A Japanese repair technique.”  Here her Zen teacher deliberately breaks a plate, sweeps up the pieces, and then reassembles the plate, repairing it with a combination of lacquer and gold powder, as the class meditates.  Antonia closes her eyes, and sees that “All the things she is breaking…are being reassembled, a painter’s brush correcting her errors, the lines of repair showing up as lines in poems and stories she has loved, evidence of the damage done.”  The damage has been “made visible,” and it is beautiful.

alvarez_news

Author Julia Alvarez

Photos:  The young girl trying to get on the bus is from https://www.mediaite.com  Photo credit: PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

The trailer on Roger’s farm where Mario and Jose live in hiding may have resembled this one: https://www.shoppok.com

The Open Door Clinic:  https://vtdigger.org

Kintsugi art:  https://wam.umn.edu

Author photo:  http://www.middlebury.edu

AFTERLIFE
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Book Club Suggestions, Literary, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues
Written by: Julia Alvarez
Published by: Algonquin Books
Date Published: 04/07/2020
ISBN: 978-1643750255
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

William Boyd–TRIO

“The title of a novel came mysteriously, unbidden, into her head—The Zigzag Man.  She could almost see the cover in her mind’s eye.  A clever use of the two zeds; perhaps different colors for the “zig’ and the “zag”…She poured herself more orange juice and went back to the cupboard for the Samson’s, emptying the last half-inch into the glass.  Better buy another bottle of voddy, she told herself.” – Elfrida Wing, author.

51HZOiIv9bL._SX353_BO1,204,203,200_In Trio, the sixteenth novel of his long career, author William Boyd is at the peak of his game, creating a trio of stories within stories involving overlapping characters and all the tumult involved in the ongoing production of a film.  Set in Brighton, England, in 1968, the novel is both a comedy and a serious contemplation by individual characters, of who they are, where they are going, and whether it matters. Three separate, individualized narratives feature the three main characters and their friends, while an overall narrative connects the making of a film with these characters.  Though the film’s action and its script are in a state of constant flux, author William Boyd is firmly in charge.  Every detail, every absurd action, and every surprise contributes to the overall mood and direction of the novel, and at the conclusion, which has surprises of its own, every question will be answered, and satisfying resolutions will have taken place in the lives of all the characters – and within the reader.

author photo

Author William Boyd’s photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis

Boyd’s own experiences as a filmwriter for over a dozen films help to make the complexities of this elaborate narrative more palatable for the reader – and more lucid.  Elfrida Wing, an author who is the wife of Reggie (Rodrigo) Tipton, the film’s director, opens the novel with a scene illustrating her problems with alcohol,  even early in the morning.  She has not published a book in ten years, and though she has just thought of a new title for a new book, she recognizes, through the haze, that “Titles were the easy bit – writing the novel was the awful challenge.”  Another main character, Talbot Kydd, the producer of the current film project Emily Bracegirdle’s Extremely Useful Ladder to the Moon, hides some unspoken questions about his own sexuality and refers to some annoying problems with people on the set of the film.  Anny Viklund, the star of the film, opens her first chapter by getting out of bed with a young star of the film, having enjoyed the night.  She insists on absolute secrecy regarding their relationship, however.  Each of these three introductory scenes averages only two to three pages in length – resembling a quick scene from a movie, inserted to pique the interest of the viewer at the beginning before going on to more complex issues. Questions of love and marriage and sexuality in the first scenes combine with the more mundane complexities arising in the filming as the three main characters and several minor characters connect and reveal additional problems.

Garden, Virginia Woolf's Monk's House

Garden, Virginia Woolf’s Monk’s House

Boyd continues to use this pattern throughout the novel, with the three main characters rotating through their separate chapters, each one providing small bits of information to the reader, and minor characters flitting into and out of these scenes and expanding the focus.  Elfrida strains under her identification by a critic as “the New Virginia Woolf,” as she has never really liked Virginia Woolf.  Eventually, she becomes obsessed with writing about the last year of Virginia Woolf’s life, collecting privately printed pamphlets about her and personally visiting her house, garden, and the River Ouse, where Woolf drowned herself.  Elfrida makes contact with local people who knew Virginia Woolf, and she contacts her own literary agent and her editor to prepare them for the books she plans to write.  Having not written anything for ten years, however, she has a hard time trying to convince them to provide her with advances. During this time, she works on her opening paragraph for the Woolf book, and readers and fellow writers will find her series of six “first paragraphs” – in all their changing iterations – a surprising and entertaining study of writing and editing.

The Alvis TF21, a rare car, is one of Talbot Kydd's favorite possessions.

The Alvis TF21, a rare car, is one of Talbot Kydd’s favorite possessions.

Talbot Kydd’s story, as producer of the film, is significantly more complicated.  He must deal with his “producing partner,” Yorgos, who sometimes acts on his own and not always with Talbot’s interests at heart.  It is not long before Talbot figures out that he is being defrauded of his share of a contract for another film. He is also visited on the set by the British Special Branch and the FBI about an escaped criminal, Cornell Weeks, star Anny Viklund’s ex-husband, who wants a significant sum of money so he can escape to Mozambique.  Adding to the chaos, Talbot’s director Reggie Tipton has hired a new screenwriter with whom Reggie is having an affair, and an aging star is now demanding a scene in the new film.  Troy Blaze, Anny’s lover and a heartthrob in the film, needs a song, yet to be written, to promote the film for Talbot.  As for Anny, the “thinnest” of the characters here, she is desperate to stay clear of Cornell, her ex-husband, but not strong enough to enforce her demands. Then suddenly, without prelude, Anny disappears, making her unavailable for filming and, perhaps forcing a different conclusion for the film.

On a trip to France, Anny visits Cap Ferret Photo by Eric Cowez.

On a trip to France, Anny visits Cap Ferret. Photo by Eric Cowez.

The conclusion resolves all the characters’ personal and thematic issues without sentimentality or overt emotionalism.  All the main characters change, resolving their biggest issues in their own unique ways, looking at their lives through new lenses.  Well developed lesser characters also make some changes, adding to the novel’s scope and further cementing William Boyd’s reputation as one of the finest writers of the day, a man with unlimited imagination and the ability to bring to satisfying fruition even the most unusual plots and schemes.  The full scope of Boyd’s talent in depicting characters through their behavior (and my favorite ironic detail from the novel) may be deduced from a song which Troy Blaze writes for Anny and which he hopes will be included in the film:

              I knew I’d never be the man you wanted

              I knew I’d never be your Mister Right

              But all the same my life is haunted –

              My heart’s marshmallow, yours is anthracite.

.

ALSO by William Boyd:      ANY HUMAN HEART,     LOVE IS BLIND,     NATE TATE: AN AMERICAN ARTIST,     SWEET CARESS,     WAITING FOR SUNRISE

Photos.  The author’s photo appears on https://www.dailymail.co.uk    Photo by Colin McPherson/Corbis.

The garden at Monk’s House, home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, may be found here:  https://www.pinterest.com

The Alvis TF21, a rare car, is one of Talbot Kydd’s favorite possessions.  https://www.historics.co.uk

On a trip to France, Anny finds her visit to Cap Ferret especially relaxing.  https://www.123rf.com

TRIO
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Literary, England, Social and Political Issues
Written by: William Boyd
Published by: Knopf
Date Published: 01/19/2021
ISBN: 978-0593318232
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

“We dream of chalices and Rothkos, African masks and twisting Berninis unfolding in our minds like so many fluttering pages.  Our hearts stutter with their stories, so many stories that words won’t do.  We need to show you what we see, what we have woken up, right here, right now, in this shiny box.” – Devoted staff member of the Metropolitan Museum.

cover coulson metropolitan storiesIn the alternative universe of Christine Coulson’s collection of stories from the Metropolitan Museum in New York, inanimate paintings and sculptures can think, feel, and speak.  These “speakers,” their conflicts, and their points of view vary widely – and surprisingly – from a robust man who speaks as the invisible charcoal underdrawing on a 1545 canvas by Venetian painter Tintoretto, to an insightful chair which describes its memories of a sobbing of little eight-year-old in the Ducal Palace of Parma in 1749.  Paintings and sculptures from all time periods reveal their own thoughts as they vie to be chosen the Perfect Muse, the lucky winner of which will accompany Michel Larousse, the Director of the Museum, to an important meeting.  A variety of human characters depicted here include an assistant in the Met’s Development Office who is given the task of picking up “the meat,” a four-thousand-year-old “leg of lamb,” which she must bring to the Egyptian Department so it can be put into a statue’s basket.  Another character, who reappears throughout, is a security guard named Henry Radish who works at night and is fascinated by the ability of the Met’s artwork to transfer its sentiments to his own soul, his favorite work being “Adam,” a marble Renaissance sculpture in the Blumenthal Patio.  Melvin, an out-of-work insurance salesman, one of the most memorable characters, takes up residence near the top of the front steps to the museum, and has a life-changing experience when he goes inside for the first time.  Other characters reflect the elite, wealthy, and demanding collectors whose donations to the museum help to keep it running.

Dendur, where a luncheon is being prepared for a meeting.

Temple of Dendur, where a luncheon is being prepared for a meeting.

Some of the stories interconnect with others, providing some sense of organization and focus, though this is not a novel as it claims to be.  Its scale and scope are limited only by the museum’s artwork itself, and its settings include all the galleries, many of which are created to resemble the original settings of the work displayed in them.  The basement, the tunnels, and the private work spaces where the art is repaired and special lighting is developed are also included. The Temple of Dendur, a public display, donated to the United States by Egypt in 1960 to protect it from rising water in Egypt, has been a a major exhibit at the Met since 1978.  Here it is a gathering place for patrons and visitors and the location of an elegant dinner which is held during one of the stories of this book.  A surprise secret location is discovered by Edith and revealed in the conclusion, when she investigates the museum’s supply of cardboard boxes after the death of a long-time employee, known as the Rubber Band Man.

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/197822

Adam by Tullio Lombardo (1455-1532), Henry Radish’s favorite museum piece.

The stories are not uniformly developed, with the human characters more fully developed in the latter part of the collection when the author relies less on magic and the supernatural to affect the conclusions.  The first of the more fully developed stories is “Night Moves,” featuring Henry Radish and his relationship with Maira, a young woman who also works at night and with whom he has an affair at the museum.  When it ends after three weeks, Radish wanders, fascinated, at  first, by Corot’s painting of “The Letter,” though the real “anchor” of his life is Adam, a marble Renaissance sculpture by Tullio Lombardo (1455-1532) in the Blumenthal Patio.  Radish feels that if he exercises vigorously during some breaks at night, that he will look more like Adam and that perhaps his romantic life will take a muscular turn in a new direction.  Working out in a service stairwell so he will not appear on a security camera, Radish strips and exercises, only to find his boss coming up the stairwell unexpectedly.  A later story, “Adam,” continues the “Night Moves” story, as Adam, the Renaissance sculpture, tells his own story.  Having seen Radish’s boss approaching up the stairs, Adam believes that if he could only move, he might be able to help Radish.  Adam tries hard, but his plan is a disaster – he falls off his pedestal and crashes.  When Radish runs for help in dealing with the smashed statue, the gallery is regarded, at first, as a crime scene and Radish as a suspect.

Melvin becomes captivated by the Lehman wing, where he relaxes on the sofa surrounded by art and experiences a new world.

Melvin becomes captivated by the Lehman Wing, where he relaxes on the sofa surrounded by art and experiences a new world.  Click to enlarge.

Melvin, an out-of-work insurance salesman, has his own magical experience at the Met.  After five days of sitting on the front steps in front of the museum, occasionally chatting with Walter, a custodian, he finally decides to go inside. Wandering around the Lehman Wing, he is absorbed by an overwhelming feeling of belonging, and he spends time admiring El Greco’s painting of St. Jerome, a large Goya painting of a countess with her daughter, a Rembrandt, and a 14th century bronze sculpture.  He sits on the sofa in the replica of what had been Lehman’s living room and realizes that he is being overwhelmed by pure beauty.  Melvin’s body gradually begins to dissolve into the room, “unable to sustain its existence against the might of such splendor.  The more beauty he absorbed, the more it absorbed him…For hours he sat there,” on his way into a new world.

The Rubber Band Man has used scissors, paper, and brown boxes to create a miniature daybed model from the Wrightsman Galleries.

The Rubber Band Man has used scissors, paper, and brown boxes to recreate a miniature daybed model from the Wrightsman Galleries.

The last story, “Paper Cuts,” may be the most satisfying.  Walter, the custodian, is ending his shift when he discovers the body of the “Rubber Band Man,” a tiny man, aged eighty-seven, who has worked for the museum since he was nineteen.  His job has been to manage the supply of paper shopping bags and boxes for the museum shop.  Since he has no family, the museum decides to have memorial service for him, learning that his real name is Constantine Srossic, which some workers rudely insist on mispronouncing as “Sewersick. It is not until Edith, a new employee working in the Merchandise Department, investigates the boxes that Srossic has set up to mark his “space” and his supplies, that Constantine Srossic’s real impact on the museum comes to light.  For Edith, an amazing discovery cements her belief that “just beyond the museum’s worn paths and daily rituals, there lies the possibility of something wholly unimaginable,” a fine ending to a book which has wandered through its points of view, stories, themes, and direction until it finally arrives at a memorable conclusion.

Author Christine Coulson, who worked at the Metrpolitan Museum for over twenty years.

Author Christine Coulson, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum for over twenty-five years.

Photos.  The Temple of Dendur appears on http://www.touregypt.net

Adam by Tullio Lombardo (1455-1532), Henry Radish’s favorite museum piece is from https://commons.wikimedia.org

The Living Room from the Lehman Wing may be found on https://www.alamy.com

The Rubber Band Man recreated a miniature daybed from the 1775 room of Hotel Crillon in Wrightsman Galleries from scissors, paper, and brown boxes.  https://www.flickr.com

The author photo of Christine Coulson is from https://www.pequotlibrary.org

“Often she danced alone, and she forced the [band] to quicken their pace, or they couldn’t keep time to the flurry of her hips.  Oona was their enchantress, and she came out onto the floor with Sonny Salinger, expecting to teach him a few tricks.  But he seized her with alacrity, and she spun around him like a spindle on a silken thread.” – Oona at the Stork Club, 1942.

cover sgt salingerWith a first chapter set at the Stork Club, where Oona O’Neill, then a sixteen-year-old “voluptuous child,” sits at Walter Winchell’s Table 50, author Jerome Charyn creates a mood of wild nights and war-fueled abandon in New York shortly after the recent Pearl Harbor attack.  Oona, young daughter of Nobel-Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, has her own closet at the Stork, “where she [can] park her Mary Janes and put on strapless dresses” which she buys at a discount house because she can not afford Saks. This night she is waiting excitedly for one of her beaux, Sonny Salinger, a short story writer, and when he arrives at the Stork, he joins Oona and Winchell at Table 50.  Winchell introduces Sonny to Ernest Hemingway, one of Sonny’s idols, a few tables behind them.  Hemingway, a civilian, anxious to become a colonel with his own battalion, is there hoping that Winchell’s close connections with FDR will help him, but Hemingway and Winchell do not get along, and both are on edge that night, bickering at each other.  Salinger himself has always despised the Stork Club and all its glitter, but he is head over heels in love with Oona, and when the tension grows ominously between Winchell and Hemingway, Salinger and Oona go to another room, dance the rhumba, and then leave the premises.  That night, when Salinger arrives at home, he finds an Order of Induction from the President of the United States.  Drafted to work in Counter Intelligence, he must leave for Fort Dix immediately.

J. D. Salinger with Oona O'Neill

J. D. Salinger with Oona O’Neill

Those whose familiarity with the life of J. D. Salinger focuses primarily on his hermit-like existence later in life, will find his early activities from 1942 – 1946, detailed in the opening chapters at the Stork and in the crises he faces throughout the war, especially revealing of his life and personality.  Author Jerome Charyn is particularly careful to connect the events in ways which allow the reader to feel the traumas and horrors. In an early episode set in Slapton Sands in England, Salinger is dramatically affected when he receives an unexpected phone call from Oona, now married, a personal call on a public phone which infuriates his superior officer.  Since Slapton Sands is an area being used to practice for a landing at Normandy, tensions are very high.  At this point, his superior officer assigns Salinger to evaluate whether some sketches drawn by people he knows might have been reconnaissance destined for the enemy, an interrogation which requires him to be brutal.  He “agrees” to give the two soldiers “another licking,” but does not do so once his superior leaves. Instead, he impounds the sketchbooks.  A disastrous attack on the unit leads Salinger to retreat into himself for many hours, and suggests that he has been more emotionally injured than what is, at first, obvious.

Salinger at war.

Salinger at war.

Salinger later arrives in Normandy, where he discovers, after a battle, that a captain he knows has “lost it,”  and learns the true meaning of the “Screaming Meemies.”  Determined not to leave his emotionally shattered captain behind, he drag him toward safety through a flooded farmland and booby-trapped town, in which even the pretzels are poisoned.  In Cherbourg they must capture the port in order to keep their tanks and trucks supplied with gasoline, and Salinger is in charge of questioning a young boy who belongs to the milice, a boy who has executed the former mayor.  A “priest” who wants to serve them a meal is also questioned, and turned over to an internment camp.  Eventually, a fire, encouraged by a superior, breaks out in a hotel in which some rebels are hiding, and the major takes over, prohibiting Salinger from getting involved.  The horrors continue until the Allies suddenly sweep across France, and Ike and his generals prepare to deal with Paris, just as Salinger’s unit, the Twelfth, gets ready to enter the city.

War photographer Frank Capa, a driver, and Ernest Hemingway near the end of WW2

War photographer Robert Capa, a driver, and Ernest Hemingway near the end of WW2

For Salinger, virtually everything is affecting, and he is soon in charge of dealing with civilian Ernest Hemingway in Paris. Hemingway, as he indicated at the Stork, ages ago, has succeeded in  collecting a “band of stragglers around him…a motley crew of soldiers, civilians, and Resistance fighters equipped with submachine guns and hand grenades.”  Salinger is assigned to “bring [the captain] Hemingway’s scalp,” and he is surprised when he finds that Hemingway has “ballooned out” in the time since he last saw him.  When told that he has to give up his weapons to keep him from complicating the generals’ plans, Hemingway finds himself boxed into the Ritz and decides to lie low there.  Salinger moves on to Luxembourg and eventually to a small Bavarian village which reveals the unspeakable horrors of the SS elite against everyone who got in their way, including gypsies, Serbs, Jews, half Jews, and very young children, one of whom with permanent injuries he rescues and relocates in safety.  He is so torn by what he has seen in the course of the war, however, that he begins to become suicidal and actively seeks mental help.

Jerome Charyn. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese

Jerome Charyn. Photo by Klaus Schoenwiese

Author Jerome Charyn uses Salinger’s remaining time in Europe to develop an ending in sharp contrast to the beginning.  Instead of sweet Oona, Salinger becomes involved with a German woman, suspected of having been a member of the Gestapo.  In this relationship, “there were no boundaries between peace and war….They’d battle until he was all black-and-blue,” with Salinger wearing his holster while making love. Their distorted relationship resembles Salinger’s relationships with the army and the war itself, and after he and Sylvia end their relationship, he continues to spend most of his time inside his head reliving his memories and their unending horrors.  Readers who admire Salinger’s writing will find this fictional biography of his life when he was in his twenties both enlightening and heartbreaking, as he struggles with his concept of who he is – and why.  Publishing two short stories after the war, Salinger begins to see some light, and five years after his return home from Europe, he publishes his most famous book, Catcher in the Rye.  How much of a recovery that represents is left up to the reader.

Chaplin and O'Neill, after their wedding, 1943

In 1943, Oona O’Neill married Charlie Chaplin the day after her 18th birthday. He was 36 years older, and the marriage lasted 34 years, until his death. They had eight children.

Photos.  Happy Oona O’Neill and J. D. Salinger, 1942, are found here:  https://www.razon.com.mx

Salinger in 1944. https://www.quora.com

Photographer Robert Capa, a driver, and Ernest Hemingway, near the end of World War II.   www.vanityfair.com

Author Jerome Charyn:  https://www.vanityfair.com  Photo by  Klaus Schoenwiese.

Oona O’Neill, married in 1943,  the day after her 18th birthday, to Charlie Chaplin, 36 years older.  The marriage lasted 34 years until his death at age 88 and produced eight children.  https://www.countryliving.com

SERGEANT SALINGER
REVIEW. PHOTOS. Biography, Historical, Literary, Psychological study, Social and Political Issues, United States
Written by: Jerome Charyn
Published by: Bellevue Literary Press
Date Published: 01/26/2021
ISBN: 978-1942658740
Available in: Ebook Paperback Hardcover

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