AS ALWAYS, JACK

A WARTIME LOVE STORY

Fibber and Molly are long gone, but Jack Sweeney remains the romantic, young Naval officer forever.

The letters reprinted here from the author’s father to her mother were written in 1946, so the subtitle promising “a wartime love story” is a bit of a stretch. Nonetheless, it was and still is a love story.

World War II ended just a few months before handsome, clever Navy pilot Jack Sweeney met pretty, charming Beebe Mathewson. After a rapturous fortnight-long courtship, he was shipped to the Pacific, where he wrote letter upon letter, sometimes slight, always sincere. Emma Sweeney, who was born after her father’s plane disappeared south of Bermuda in 1956, found the missives (tied with a faded pink ribbon) following her mother’s death in 1985. That discovery was an emotional revelation, profoundly meaningful to her—and those who like to read other people’s mail will also get a particular frisson from them. Others may find the correspondence a mildly interesting time capsule from nearly 60 years past. In the nifty argot of the period, Jack writes to his “honeybunch,” his “honeybunny boo,” and signs off with “SWAK.” He is “batty” about Beebe. She’s “the bee’s knees,” no less, and he wonders if her boss is “a wolf.” Apparently she’s not as amused by radio’s Fibber McGee and Molly as he is, but they agree on the music of Perry Como. He describes movies and card games and includes little rebus sketches and cartoons. He writes truly funny things, discusses his “sox” (careful with his penmanship so it doesn’t look like “sex”) and expresses concern that his girl may be putting on weight. (When she doesn’t think that’s so funny, he apologizes: “all I wanted was to be sure I could still put my arms all the way around you.”) The motif throughout is Jack’s passion. He is besotted with love, and within days of his return, they are married. In ten years, they have four sons. Then, still a Navy pilot, he apparently crashes somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. He never saw his daughter, who meets him best through these love letters.

Fibber and Molly are long gone, but Jack Sweeney remains the romantic, young Naval officer forever.

Pub Date: April 10, 2002

ISBN: 0-316-75858-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A quirky wonder of a book.

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

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. 20, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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