A debut coming-of-age novel, set on the Jersey Shore, follows a teenager who falls in love with a thief.
High-achieving Vivian is bemused rather than frightened when a fellow teen holds up the Dunkin’ Donuts where she works. A few days later, the handsome lad shows up on his motorcycle and they have their first date. Despite notable differences in their ambition levels (Vivian dreams of attending Princeton; Jake plans his next robbery, the sites chosen for the lack of nutrition they promote rather than material gain), the two share a sense of loss. Vivian’s beloved father died recently, and she and her Southern belle mother, Ivy, are clashing for the first time as they navigate their new reality. Jake’s alcoholic mother, Wendy, deserted him and his father, Sonny, to become a cocktail waitress in Atlantic City. Jake’s formidable anger and sense of abandonment—intensified by his diabetes—are palpable. Vivian is drawn to his vulnerability, but Ivy sees him merely as bad news. Vivian’s academic and musical perfection (she plays the clarinet) falter as she spends time with Jake, intensifying the disapproval of Vivian’s best friend, Hailey, and Ivy. Then a bad decision threatens Vivian’s future and her relationship with Jake. Hilton’s secondary players—Sonny, Wendy, Hailey, and Ivy—are just as complex and developed as the main characters. At one point, Sonny turns philosophical: “Wendy had once told him that a group of seagulls was called a flurry, and while Sonny wasn’t normally a person fascinated by words, this was an image he grew to appreciate. A flurry of snow that made it impossible to fly…A flurry of events that made it difficult to put one foot in front of the other.” The tale’s setting, primarily the Jersey Shore town of Belmar, is virtually a character itself, informing and infusing the protagonists in diverse ways. Vivian has no desire to return to her parents’ hometown of New Orleans, but Jersey-raised Hailey finds her spiritual base in the Deep South. Vivian and Jake’s love story may provide the foundation for this book, but it is more than a teen romance. While it is a coming-of-age story for the three teenagers, the parents also learn lessons about love and loss. Eloquently written, the novel transcends ordinary genres and is a work of literary fiction.
A remarkable, deeply nuanced tale about growing up, even for readers who are already adults.
A biography of Jane Hall, a writer for magazines and movies, traces the complicated, warring pressures of talent and the feminine mystique.
Cutler (The Laughing Desert, 2012, etc.), a historian, tells the story of her mother’s life. Born in an Arizona mining town in 1915, Hall had published poems, short stories, articles, and more by the time she was 15. After her parents died, Hall and her brother moved east in 1930 to live with her aunt and uncle, part of Manhattan’s privileged elite. In 1933, Hearst’s New York American called her “one of the season’s most ‘prominent debutantes.’ ” Hall began selling stories and moved to Hollywood in 1937, where her colleagues included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, and Anita Loos. Hall’s hard work and gift for dialogue earned her a good reputation; she worked on a half-dozen films, such as These Glamour Girls (1939). Cosmopolitan published that movie as a novel and featured her on the cover, writing that Hall “would rather be considered a glamour girl than a successful writer,” adding “She is both”—but not for much longer. In 1940, she married Robert Frye Cutler, a theatrical producer. They had Robin in 1944. Hall soon lost momentum as a writer; her last penciled diary comment, dated 1951, reads: “I haven’t written anything for years….I feel peaceful, quite resigned, and also, much of the time, quite dead.” Her marriage faltered, especially after her husband became an invalid, but she found some happiness in a warm, supportive friendship with a married man. She died in 1987. In this well-researched account, with full scholarly apparatus, the author thoughtfully examines the allure and trap of glamour. In this, Hall’s story mirrors those of many female professionals even today, who face immense pressures to maintain a certain look. Hall’s brushes with Hollywood and literary celebrities make great reading. Fitzgerald gave her an inscribed copy of Tender Is the Night (“the book may have been his warning to Jane about the consequences of marrying the wrong person, and the seductive power of wealth, alcohol, and a world of superficiality and showiness”). This portrait of a more literary mass-market America offers much food for reflection on modern culture.
A valuable, absorbing contribution to the history of women, golden-age Hollywood, and America’s magazine culture of the 1930s and ’40s.
An ambitious debut novel chronicles the making of an outlaw in frontier California.
Young Tiburcio Vasquez, the hero of Caraccio’s tale, was born in Mexico but raised in the United States, staying in the vicinity of Monterey, California. The year is 1854, and, as soon as the West Coast is conquered, “thousands of squatters are swarming all over the region, from Sacramento to San Francisco.” Tiburcio, a strapping vaquero, master horseman, and snappy guitarist, runs afoul of the new law in town when his cousin Anastacio Garcia shoots a constable in a bar fight. When the town’s vigilantes hold Tiburcio equally guilty, the young man flees to the mountains. Treated as an outlaw, he becomes one, rustling cattle and horses and encouraging his fellow natives to defy the invaders. “In the end,” he promises himself, “you will stand tall and they will cower like beaten dogs.” Tiburcio’s planned rebellion fails, but he proves to be a skillful bandit and spends the remaining 20 years of his life adventuring in the mountains, desert plains, and fields and fermenting insurrection in the jail cells of California (where he becomes a bit of a celebrity, because “he gave the ignorant brutes encouragement that life would improve once they were freed”). All the while, he pines for his true love, Anita, “the slender beauty whose dark eyes reflected the world right back to him.” Eventually, Anita becomes embroiled in the revolutionary politics Tibrurcio stirs up, involved enough to risk her own life and freedom. There is a good deal of truth in Caraccio’s fiction. Tiburcio was a real agitator and, later, an authentic legend in his home state. According to some sources, he was eventually memorialized as the pulp hero Zorro. In Caraccio’s story, the original proves more than a match for the famous avenger, so much so as to occasionally strain plausibility. The author’s research is impeccable, but this is a sweeping book, so necessary invention abounds. Readers come to know not only Tiburcio, but also the people around him: villagers, renegades, and gringos alike. The prose here is always clear and readable, and this 508-page book might have been even longer while still remaining every bit as enlightening and suspenseful.
A lively epic of love, invasion, flight, and revolt in the years following the Mexican-American War.
Uncontrollable forces (including the absurd, the magical, and the tragic) upset carefully ordered lives in this short story collection that won the 2016 Howling Bird Press fiction prize.
Appel (Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets, 2015, etc.), a physician, attorney, and bioethicist with multiple degrees, collects literary prizes the way some other authors collect rejection slips, and for good reason. This latest collection again offers well-constructed stories that sharply but compassionately observe people trying to make sense of life’s disruptions. In the title story, for example, Quincy Marder, a “steady and dependable” copyright lawyer, gets a call from his elderly mother’s neighbor about her backyard topless sunbathing: “ ‘Your Ma’s still out there,’ Otten complained. ‘And let me tell you, it’s no pretty sight.’ ” Quincy tries reasoning with his mother, pleading with her, and buying new backyard fences for the neighbors; his mom, Ilene, responds by upping the ante—inviting her friends to play topless mahjong in the front yard. Finally, she’s arrested. At the chilly police station, Ilene accepts Quincy’s coat, and he sees her differently: wrapped up, “she looked decades older, sexless, nearly lifeless—her body the sort of breathing shell that you might pass on a public street without even taking notice.” That’s what people want of old women, readers understand: to disappear and spare others from having to feel disgust and fear about their aging bodies. Ilene’s nonchalance now seems like no stunt but rather a radically self-affirming gesture. Other stories come to similarly thoughtful, often wrenching conclusions. In “Toward Uncharted Waters,” for example, a childless couple is about to start an adventurous retirement when the wife becomes a quadriplegic. Walter cares well for Marcy aboard the boat they’d planned to sail to Tierra del Fuego, but then he meets an attractive woman and wants her: “Loving Pam would mean sleeping with a body, while loving Marcy meant caring for a head.” But, as always with Appel, it’s not that simple—and Walter’s final choice is based on love of a more complicated kind.
A sci-fi thriller finds an ordinary family besieged by the structure of its seemingly utopian society.
Eight-year-old Corim Colleran is a member of the General Order. He enjoys a time when humanity suffers no disease, war, or famine. Men of the General Order live to be 36 years old, while women die at 37. One day, Corim and his classmates are addressed by Mrs. Winten, part of the higher Counselor Order (whose members reach 77). She shows the children footage of poor, starving, and elderly people, reminding them that “the system that determines how you...live and die is the same system that ensures not only your well-being, but your very existence.” When Corim and his classmates turn 13, they are allowed to visit the soft rooms, where sexuality is explored. Corim and a girl named Kiri become close but not through sex; they take long walks together and learn to value each other’s company. On the verge of adulthood, Kiri is chosen for the honor of working in a brothel, in the service of the higher Orders. When she and Corim have a child together, all seems well until the perfection of their society turns savagely against them. In crafting a narrative haunted by echoes of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Maguire (Drawn Inward and Other Poems, 2016, etc.) portrays a disturbing future of utilitarian horror. Early on, he introduces readers to the notion of Extension, or the ability of this society to revive—for three days—those who accidentally die before their allotted time. The author’s employment of this clever plot device, and the dramatic fallout, offers commentary relevant to all eras of human history, in that “those in power do what they do...because the very act of exercising their power brings them pleasure.” The prose is straightforward and often beautiful, as when young Corim loses his virginity and experiences “that hot foundry where the self melts.” This is a genre-transcending work that anyone who loves passionate storytelling should savor.
A striking feat of mature, humanistic sci-fi that explores a shocking future.
As told in rhyming couplets, when a sneaky dog steals a scrupulous dog’s hole, things fall apart, sparking philosophical reflections.
At the Burbles’ place, house 42, live “Kirby the Sneak and Arlo the True,” plus Kismet the Cat. Arlo is a clay-colored guard dog who keeps watch over the yard, which includes the hole he dug as a puppy. Kirby is a black-and-white collie “of a thousand disguises, unbeaten at Clue, // Dogma Cum Laude from Trickery U,” so he devises an elaborate plan to steal Arlo’s hole. He fills it in, runs off with the hole in his mouth, and puts it in neighbor Mr. McCornchowder’s yard, making a quick escape. Somehow this alters the balance of nature: “The earthyworms’ dirts had turned hard as a rock, / And the dragonfly’s motor was starting to knock,” for example. Kismet the Wise, however, orders Kirby to “get the hole back.” With some difficulty and a little damage to himself, Kirby does so, and all returns to normal. Kirby sits down to think it over, with wide-ranging philosophical musing on the nature of holes, points, circles, physics, time, webs, and more. Both dogs find themselves reflecting on family history and tradition: Arlo’s of fidelity and Kirby’s of sneakiness and sheepherding, counterpointed with the backdrop of a perfect summer afternoon. The end of Kirby’s exploring is his grand theory, “The Downhole Effect.” Williamson (A Most Marvelous Piece of Luck, 2008, etc.), a much-published poet, seems unable to write a dull line. His lists are a special delight, as when Kirby assembles his hole-recovery gear: “One snow axe, two snorkels, a hollow point spear // A vanishing hand cream called U D’sappear,” and so on. His images are fresh and striking: an American dog with “the patience of mesas”; “the Spirograph seeds in the sunflower’s swirl.” This might resemble a children’s book, with its rhyming couplets, animal heroes, and amusing line drawings, but adults will likely better appreciate its zinging verbal wit, clever rhymes, and learned allusions.
Brilliantly comic, pleasingly discursive, admirably dexterous, this narrative poem is a tour de force.