The understated tone of this Everyman’s Citizen Kane perfectly suits Lehrer’s gifts, as he eschews his usual satiric stance...

OH, JOHNNY

A young ex-Marine pursues two ideals, a major-league baseball career and a young woman he knows only as Betsy, in Lehrer’s bittersweet 19th novel (Mack to the Rescue, 2008, etc.).

It’s 1944, and Johnny Wrigley is 17 and green as grass when the troop transport taking him from Baltimore to California stops off in Wichita, Kan. Though the stop lasts barely half an hour, it’s long enough for Johnny to lose his virginity with Betsy, one of the girls who came to meet the train with apples and smokes for the recruits. Johnny can see that Betsy is religious in an oddly directive way he’s never encountered before. But he also knows from the first that he loves her in a way he’ll never love anyone else, and in a series of letters he composes but never writes down, he pledges his love and vows that he’ll return. That turns out to be a tall order. First Johnny has to survive brutal combat on the island of Peleliu, where he’s been trained to use a flamethrower—an assignment that turns him into a target and gives him a worm’s-eye view of horrific casualties, including those he inflicts himself. Then, on his return stateside, he has to search fruitlessly through Wichita and environs for Betsy before giving up and returning home to Lafayette, Md. Eagerly embraced by his fond mother and the kid sister of a friend who was killed in Europe, Johnny reverts to his original dream: becoming a baseball star in the mold of his idol, Brooklyn Dodgers center fielder Pete Reiser. This dream also goes bad, leaving Johnny with nothing but a menial job and his hopes of returning to both baseball and Betsy. Eventually his dreams come true, but not quite in the way he expected.

The understated tone of this Everyman’s Citizen Kane perfectly suits Lehrer’s gifts, as he eschews his usual satiric stance for a warmhearted evocation of the road not taken.

Pub Date: March 31, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6762-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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