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Category Archive for 'US Regional'

Author Lily King, a widely honored author of novels, has just published her first collection of stories, Five Tuesdays in Winter, and what a collection it is. Filled with references to famous writers and their writing, the collection also features the writing of her own characters, such as a young teen writing diary entries and imagining life events, and a young mother trying to find time to examine life and write while taking care of a toddler. Throughout, King herself conveys the urgency of creation through stories so intense and so genuine that this book makes her own creations “blow past all the fixed boundaries of art – of life.” There is an intimacy to her stories which brings them to life in new ways, whether they be stories featuring a teenage babysitter, a shy older man who begins to experience real love for the first time, an attentive mother spoiling her selfish daughter, or characters both gay and straight as they realize who they are. Some characters here are disturbed, some are fun-loving, and at least one is a ghost, but virtually all the main characters are appealing as they deal with life’s twists and turns, and Lily King allows the reader to connect with them all.

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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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Sebastian Barry’s previous novel, Days Without End, provides the historical background for A Thousand Moons, which features the same characters in a new, later time period (though it is not necessary to have read that book before reading this). In that book, two young, Irish boys, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, stowaways escaping an Irish famine, arrive in the U.S. in the late 1840s and join an Irish regiment in the US Army, where they participate for several years in the Indian Wars throughout the West. While there, they “adopted” Winona Cole, a six-year-old Lakota Indian child following the death of her mother during those wars. Moving to Tennessee just before the Civil War, they live briefly as a family, and during the Civil War, fight on the front against “the Rebs.” A THOUSAND MOONS starts at the conclusion of the Civil War, which does not bring the peace this young family group deserves. Early in this novel, Winona is attacked, beaten, and raped, and she has no memory of who her attacker was. The death of Jas Jonski, a man who had proposed marriage to Win also shows the violence by those in power against anyone who is different, as they try to remake post-war Tennessee in their own image. A former slave who is beaten and robbed of his much loved rifle, and the arrival of another Native American woman, who becomes a friend of Winona, add more drama to this atmospheric saga and its stunning characters. Sebastian Barry creates real people involved in real problems, and he draws in the reader to share in those problems and their triumphs. The climax is unforgettable – a true homage to Barry, his characters, and his thematic messages.

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Micah Mortimer, the main character of Anne Tyler’s latest novel, her twenty-third, could not be more ordinary, at least on the surface, yet Anne Tyler makes his story one that will keep even jaded readers intrigued and involved in his unexciting life. Already forty-three, he has had his share of girlfriends, and now, “women friends,” since he refuses to refer to women over thirty as “girls.” None of his relationships have evolved into anything permanent, however, nor has he expected them to. “He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.” Finding Brink Bartell Adams, a first semester freshman in college, sitting on his doorstep one morning after Micah finishes his run, comes as a total surprise. Brink, the son of Lorna Bartell, a girlfriend from his distant past, is a freshman in college. He has found Micah’s photo in a shoebox in his family’s house, and is totally convinced that Micah must be his father. At the same time, Micah’s relationship with Cass, his woman friend of the past three years, begins to have trouble. As she has said, “I’m just saying that the you that you are might not be the right you for me.” Anne Tyler develops the story of a boring, unimaginative stick-in-the-mud and turned it into a charming and enlightening story of a man who just may have a chance at real life after all. If it is not too late.

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