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Category Archive for 'United States'

The death of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till by lynching in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, serves as the starting point for a broad look at racial crime, the people who participate in it, their families, and the society in which they live and perpetuate their own version of “justice.” Author Percival Everett treats Till’s murder and those which follow with the seriousness they deserve, but he also keeps a light, often absurd touch, preventing the reader from becoming so overwhelmed by issues that s/he becomes inured to the individual horrors. Characters have unexpected names (Pinch Wheyface and Pick L. Dill, for example), and ignorance and profanity play a big role here as the murderers of Emmett, all from the same family, themselves become the victims of vengeance by unknown people. Roles get reversed, black investigators take precedence over local white police, and as lynchings spread throughout the country, they ultimately become an issue involving an unnamed former President. Unique and unforgettable in its presentation, format, and messaging.

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HARLEM SHUFFLE by Colson Whitehead is a gem of novel, one certain to win both literary prizes and enthusiastic plaudits from its readers. A crime novel which remains both entertaining and filled with warmth toward many of the characters, even those who do not follow the straight and narrow, it shows life as it is and emphasizes the variety of ways that people deal with their difficulties successfully, even when threats and fear become part of the equation. Despite his marginal set of ethics and a neighborhood in which murder is common, Carney as main character remains intriguing and sympathetic in most of his actions. And though he may never be considered a “hero” on a grand scale, he is a hero to many people for his accomplishments and his pragmatic vision of the community’s future possibilities. His innate goodness, even in the most trying times, somehow shines through, often with a touch of humor.

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Great fun to read, the primary purpose of the novel is to entertain while considering the role of plot in the success of any fiction. Because the plot within this novel, which is responsible for Jake’s astounding success, is the same story which makes this book by Jean Hanff Korelitz so successful, any attempt to summarize that plot would spoil the whole reason for reading it. It is a meticulously constructed novel which has a love story, several murders, intense relationships, shifts of focus among various characters and generations, and changes of location, and it is hard to imagine any reader becoming bored or tired of the action. The author is careful to keep the two plot lines from becoming confused. The story of Jake Bonner, nervous author of the bestseller “CRIB,” and the story within the story which originated with Evan Parker, will, of course, eventually merge, but that merger happens gradually and with plenty of foreshadowing. Fun to read and filled with real surprises, this is a pop novel which well deserves its popularity.

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In the opening sentence from the approximately three hundred words of the first episode of this 1968 classic, author Alfred Hayes, reveals his immense talents in creating characters and dramatic scenes in as few words as possible. A successful screenwriter, TV writer, novelist, and poet throughout the mid-twentieth century, Hayes establishes the current life circumstances of Asher, the as-yet-unnamed main character, going straight to the point regarding the state of the man’s marriage, his refusal to recognize that reality, his feelings of failure at work, and his fears of getting old, upon which he blames all his problems. Spying on his wife through the window of their house outside of Hollywood late at night, the man realizes, “I was finished.” The next day, when his wife is gone, he goes to the house, packs up everything he thinks he will need in New York, and leaves. There he reconnects with an aunt, who refers to him as Asher, and meets a young relative, Michael, who wants to be a writer, along with his girlfriend, Aurora, who is also attracted to Asher. He has had little experience dealing with devious people; screenwriting and filming being predictable protocols., but real life with two ambitious young people providing your “entertainment” is something else. Neither of them is who Asher thinks s/he is. Each quarrels with Asher at times and each plays games – both real and psychological. Ultimately, as Asher describes for the reader the exact nature of his breakup with his wife, the reader sees him still trying desperately to connect with Michael and Aurora. Ultimately, Asher belatedly reaches conclusions about himself – as does the reader of this dark and dramatic novel of a very late coming-of-age.

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In 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 reveal their jobs and their special commitments to the Met and their favorite artworks. The 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.

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