Framed by narrator Jim Jackson’s high school reunion in the middle-class Southern town of Princeton, W.Va., George’s novel...

REUNION

A 60-year-old man comes to terms with growing up with an alcoholic father in George’s debut novel.

Framed by narrator Jim Jackson’s high school reunion in the middle-class Southern town of Princeton, W.Va., George’s novel spends the bulk of its pages on Jim’s memories of his rather conventional teenage pastimes: ham radio, dances, assisting the school’s venerated football team. In 11th grade, Jim gets a thrilling gig as a Sunday morning radio announcer at the local station and has fun as quasi-roadie to his friends’ rock ’n’ roll band. These ’50s scenes of suburban sock hops and polite teenagers are pleasant to read, but it’s hard to tell if they could possibly have been as bland and unthreatening as George depicts. The worst thing any teen ever does is flirt with someone else’s girlfriend, and despite some discussion of segregation and racism, everyone presented directly is nice as nice can be. Into this narrative of old-fashioned civility thrusts, again and again, the specter of Jim’s alcoholic father, who appears at the end of every chapter or so, coming home drunk from the Elks Club, sometimes vomiting on the front porch. George puts some emotional force into these scenes, but their impact on Jim is only telegraphed. We never get to feel young Jim’s emotions, or even really see them, which greatly lessens the novel’s power. In later sections, the narrator comes right out and tells us that his father’s alcoholism has stunted his own development as a husband and father, but he does so in clinical language: “My inability to engage was a serious flaw”; “Looking back, we were trapped in a web of dysfunctionality.” We abruptly learn that the narrator now has a “sullen” 11-year-old son with “hard blue eyes,” with whom he has a “brittle and unfeeling” relationship, but no history of the relationship is given that could provide insight or invite the reader’s empathy. Still, final chapters on the physical declines and deaths of both Jim’s mother and mother-in-law are moving. And by the end of the book, George conveys Jim’s frustration with his own emotional frigidity and failings as a husband and father in a way that finally edges into raw feeling.

Pub Date: Jan. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1468529678

Page Count: 312

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2012

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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