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

AS ALWAYS, JACK

A WARTIME LOVE STORY

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

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

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. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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AN INVISIBLE THREAD

THE TRUE STORY OF AN 11-YEAR-OLD PANHANDLER, A BUSY SALES EXECUTIVE, AND AN UNLIKELY MEETING WITH DESTINY

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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