A spirited vision of America and its national game.

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THE CLUBHOUSE THIEF

Janko (Buffalo Boy and Geronimo, 2006) delivers a meditative and lyrical baseball novel.

Billy Donachio is the bench coach for the National League pennant-winning 2018 Chicago Cubs, a fictional version of the team with glancing parallels to real life. Similar parallels reign in the novel’s political world, in which semiauthoritarian Republican President Michael J. Trent runs for re-election against surprise Democratic candidate Khadijah Jamil, a Muslim woman from Chicago’s South Side. Donachio is a perennial loser—a lifelong coach who never quite made it as a player; for every team he’s played with, he seems to have been bad luck. However, as the Cubs head into a World Series matchup with the Boston Red Sox, he’s heartened by his team’s unique trio of stars: Johnny Stompiano, an irrepressible base-stealer and political activist; Hector Jesús Mijango Cruz, an openly gay slugger; and Arshan “Azzy” Azzam, the team’s ace pitcher. All three are devoted to bringing a sense of poetry back to the game—quite literally, in the form of verse on video billboards outside Wrigley Field—and are devoted to Jamil’s controversial candidacy. As the series progresses, Donachio becomes increasingly attached to two orphan boys, Sam and Jackie, who he believes are the team’s good-luck charms, and he also begins to steal notes and letters from his players’ lockers. These notes, full of poetry and philosophy, inspire Donachio and the Cubs to new, yet precarious, heights. Janko’s prose is by turns thoughtful and poetic, and over the course of the story, he weaves together a multitude of voices, including Donachio’s inner monologue, rat-a-tat-tat dugout chatter, shock-jock radio play-by-play, and the unceasing roar of the fans. Each character has his or her own finely wrought cadence, and their actions throughout the plot are all believable and well-earned. The version of America that Janko imagines here can strain credulity at times; no ballplayer has ever spoken like these do (Azzy says of Satchel Paige: “Old as he was, he whipped hot strikes burning down the heavens”), and the political race swings wildly. However, the authorial brio is enough to keep readers engaged and entranced.

A spirited vision of America and its national game.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-936970-51-3

Page Count: 308

Publisher: New Issues Poetry & Prose

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS

Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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