A dynamic concept with some powerful moments that falls just short of being something truly remarkable.

READ REVIEW

Once We Were Friends

Mooney (Eye of the Tiger, 2014) blends mystery, romance, and nostalgia while weaving a tale of personal history and human darkness.

Waves of violence swamp Timmy Walker’s past, but after long years in prison and nigh-endless appeals, it’s all about to end. Today is the day of Timmy’s execution. His lawyer, Nate, attempts one last Hail Mary attempt to stay the execution, but it doesn’t look good, despite Timmy’s confidence. Meanwhile, the day is a different sort of end for Carol, a literary agent who’s made her career on the writings of Mitch Patterson, an ex-cop who was once Timmy’s best friend as well as his most tragic victim. On the final stops of Mitch’s book tour, she finds herself caught up in reading his new project, an autobiographical novella called Summertime, which details the start of it all, from his family and the hints of literary aspiration to his first love and the stirrings of Timmy’s dark side, all in the summer of 1959. That knowledge of Timmy’s criminal future, as seen in the book within a book, casts a sickly pallor over the quaint portrait of Americana, lending the story a greater sense of depth and suspense. On the other hand, the sparse writing style in Mitch’s novella is a bit too similar to the chapters surrounding it, sometimes making for awkward transitions. The prose does have brilliant moments, particularly in a vivid romantic scene featuring an intimate Korean tea service, but these episodes aren’t frequent enough. In the end, the novel’s conclusion feels truncated, and the characters in the present are underused: one woman, Sari Novak, has a significant connection to Timmy, but she has no real story arc in the present. The ending seems to abruptly grasp at the loose ends of Summertime and rapidly tie them to the present, without the time or care needed to craft a powerful emotional resolution. Nevertheless, this tale of American adolescence is a strong one, and its connections to grisly crime and tragedy add to the allure.

A dynamic concept with some powerful moments that falls just short of being something truly remarkable.

Pub Date: May 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-1511532662

Page Count: 232

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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