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Category Archive for 'United States'

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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With 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, is waiting for her beau, J. D. Salinger (Sonny) and an evening of fun and dance. That night Salinger receives his draft notice to appear immediately at Fort Dix for counterintelligence work for the US. He spends the next three years at war in Europe, and everything changes. 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, particularly insightful 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 and to gain some understanding of the dramatic changes in his personality after the war.

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Debut author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle adds a whole new element to the Native American novels published in recent years. Her main character, Cowney Sequoyah, in his late teens, has recognized an opportunity improve his life beyond what he experiences on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina, by working for the summer at the Grove Park Inn, an elegant hotel in Asheville, North Carolina, several hours’ ride from Cherokee. Cowney dreams of completing his college education, but he is in desperate need of funds if he is to do that. Author Clapsaddle moves back and forth in time and place creating vivid pictures of daily life on the reservation and the contrasts to Asheville, establishing some of the pleasant, even important, memories Cowney has brought with him. At the inn, he learns that some German and Japanese diplomats are being held there as “guest” prisoners until they can eventually be deported. His job is working on the grounds, helping to maintain the barbed wire around the property to prevent escapes, while Essie, a young Cherokee girl, whom he has transported with him from the reservation to the inn to work, has a job inside the inn. Foreshadowing plays a large part in much of the action here, as does the use of flashbacks to connect sections from Asheville (and Essie) with other sections, often involving the greatness of nature which Cowney notes when he returns to Cherokee, occasionally, on weekends. Suddenly, Cowney finds himself the subject of an investigation into the disappearance of a young girl, and his life and viewpoint change.

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Readers looking for something thoughtful but not turgid will find much to love here. Father Dan, a “retired” priest, seems very naive – and even a little silly, at the beginning of this book. He is a constantly evolving character making a pilgrimage from Indiana to Washington State, with several important stops along the way to meet with people he knows. He can never make what most of us would call a “decision.” A reaction to two issues, in particular, one involving a friend and one involving an “unfriend,” would create no confusion for most people, but somehow they have been impossible for Fr. Dan to resolve. Throughout, the reader somehow remains on Fr. Dan’s side, even when s/he wants to throttle him, and when he finally arrives to meet his long-time friends in Washington, they provide some new thoughts and insights. Even at this point, however, Father Dan takes no immediate action, but that is good, this time – at least he does not disappear into a “hole to hell,” like the one he saw in western Kansas. Ultimately, the reader is left with the idea that Father Dan might, at last, make a real decision – all by himself, independent of historical learning, his own past, and his own fears, and maybe he will find a kind of peace he has never known. On the Favorites list for the year.

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To celebrate the Ray Bradbury Centennial (1920 – 2020), Hard Case Crime has published a deluxe new edition of twenty Bradbury crime stories from early in his career, most of them published in pulp magazines before he began his sci-fi and fantasy work. Some of these stories later inspired novels such as Dandelion Wine and Death is a Lonely Business. Republishing his work and themes from when he was in his early twenties and thirties provides an up close look at his development as a writer, one who gradually increased the complexity of his themes while reducing some of the gore. Bradbury fans will thrill at seeing some new stories and a dozen artworks associated with them.

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