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Category Archive for 'US Regional'

Ron Hansen, author of several novels set in the Wild West and Mexico, creates familiar pictures of frontier life, with all its extremes – in weather, behavior, and beliefs – and pits individuals against each other and the times as they try to carve out lives. His settings feel real, and the problems faced by his characters as they try to survive in only semi-civilized communities are understandable and sometimes poignant in their limitations. Billy the Kid, subject of this novel is a special case. He is the son of an Irish mother who lived in the New York slums and whose husband, Michael McCarty, joined the New York State Volunteers during the Civil war, transferred to an artillery group from Indiana, and died in battle. She later married William Henry Harrison Antrim, whom she left when she and her two children went to the frontier in Wichita, Kansas. Her husband followed her, but upon her death in 1874, he had no interest in the two boys and disappeared from their lives. Billy was fourteen, at that time, and his brother Joseph, “Josie,” was nineteen. Josie, too, eventually falls out of his brother’s life, and Billy ends up traveling through Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico, following the “work” and the gangs with whom he comes into contact. He is known at various times as William McCarty, Henry Antrim (to avoid confusion with his stepfather William Antrim), and William Henry Bonney, Bonney being his mother’s maiden name. Most famous for his sharp-shooting and cattle- and horse-thieving, Billy becomes known throughout the West as Billy the Kid.

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#1 on my list of Favorites for 2015! Powerful, climactic moments, both physical and emotional, pervade these stories, which are dramatic and thought-provoking in their emphasis on the various ways of looking at traumatic incidents while recognizing that there are always unknowns that creep into the reality of such events. The title novella is a classic, and three additional stories of varying lengths add to this unforgettable collection about points of view and the impossibility of ever knowing for sure what the essence of reality really is and why its interpretation differs among people who have participated in the same events but come to different conclusions. The stories come alive through McCann’s matchless ability to describe places and recreate lives through dialogue.

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It is no secret that “Benjamin Black,” author of nine noir crime novels, is the pen name of highly esteemed Irish author John Banville, author of sixteen literary novels and winner of more than twenty of the writing world’s most prestigious prizes, including the Man Booker Prize for The Sea. In these literary novels, Banville works as an artist, producing thoughtful and beautifully articulated novels at the rate of about one every two years. As Benjamin Black, Banville has written an additional eight noir crime thrillers, seven of them starring a pathologist named Quirke, and in these novels he is seen as a craftsman, rather than an artist, a recognition of the distinction between the genres and the fact that his crime novels are produced at a much faster speed, approximately one a year. The Black-Eyed Blonde, his ninth noir mystery, is his first novel written from the point of view of Philip Marlowe, the popular hard-boiled detective featured in six novels and a series of short stories by one of the earliest noir novelists, Raymond Chandler, between 1939 and 1958. Hard-drinking and often down-on-his luck, detective Philip Marlowe is shown as a loner who says what he thinks, a man with few friends and no long-term love in his life. As “pulp fiction” goes, this is probably among the best, though it is a long way from John Banville’s literary work. Still, critics and most fans of Raymond Chandler have celebrated the closeness of Black’s version of Marlowe to that of the original. Though the novel’s cold aloofness may put off some readers, it is consistent with the novel’s theme: “People get hurt unless they keep a sharp lookout.”

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In 1963, author David Stacton was listed by Time Magazine as one of “the best American novelists of the preceding decade,” his name ensconced among luminaries like John Updike, Philip Roth, Joseph Heller, Ralph Ellison, and Bernard Malamud. Stacton’s novel of The Judges of the Secret Court, the story of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and its aftermath, had been published to great acclaim in 1961, when the author was only thirty-seven. A prolific author, whose Wikipedia page lists an incredible twenty-three novels published in the eleven years between 1954 and 1965, Stacton has now, sadly, almost completely vanished from American literary history. Now republished by New York Review Books Classics, Stacton’s The Judges of the Secret Court, the only one of his novels currently in print, provides readers with a sense of what they have been missing, unknowingly, all these years – and this novel is a wonder. Filled with real characters acting like real people as they deal with the aftermath of the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee on April 9, 1865, and the ensuing tumult, the novel shows through its characters the continuing resentments between the North and the South, as it recreates all the tensions and the growing horror of the times.

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Ellen Meister, author of Dorothy Parker Drank Here, the second novel in a series in which the ghost of Dorothy Parker (1893 – 1967) is a main character, has set this novel at the Algonquin, where Parker’s spirit still resides, thanks to the fact that Parker once signed an old guest book on display in the Algonquin’s Blue Bar. Her signature, like those of other Round Table members, guarantees that her spirit will not leave the earth until it has decided it wants to go. Within this context, the author tells a story in which the main earth-bound character – in this case, Norah Wolfe, a young assistant producer of a TV talk show – is trying to contact Ted Shriver, a real person whom she believes is staying at the Algonquin. Dorothy Parker, lonely in her ghostly life, wants to persuade the Ted Shriver, who is dying, to sign the special guest book and keep her company at the Algonquin after his death. All the others from the Round Table have followed the white light to meet family and friends on the other side, something Parker refuses to do. Writing this as pure entertainment, the author pulls out all the stops, juggling these plot lines and keeping them moving in surprising ways. She plays on the reader’s interest in the characters and their connections to books and writing as she also develops an atmosphere which crosses timelines. With a light, sure touch, she puts together some hilarious visual scenes which beg to be filmed, and it is easy to imagine her sitting at her computer with a grin on her face as she writes.

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