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PAPA ON THE MOON

A collection of cunningly conceived, poetically descriptive tales with layer upon layer of intrigue.

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Indie film writer and director North probes family bonds and rifts in “a novel-in-stories” set in America’s bleak backwaters and in less affluent parts of New York City.

North grew up in part on a pig farm in upstate New York, and the 11 linked tales in this collection reflect a keen understanding of the risks and rewards of rural life. Most stories center on Paul—like his creator, a pig farmer’s son—whose life is shaped by a quest for meaning. The first tale, “Percheron,” describes a man named Walter, who’s exploring fields and finds his elderly father eviscerated by a harvesting machine. Next comes “Wild Asparagus,” which introduces Paul, whose rural pursuits include witnessing a thunderstorm as a boy. “Albino,” one of the longer stories, centers on Hitch, a guitarist who’s picking his way westward across America. Another, “The Golden Macaroni,” focuses on Trish, a chain-smoking mother and caregiver for her 35-year-old son with disabilities, Charlie, who is celebrating his birthday. The focus returns to Paul in “Cooper’s Farm,” which recalls the joys and difficulties he had growing up on a pig farm, including his evolving relationships with his father and brother. In later stories, Paul joins the Navy and works as a guard at the Central Park Zoo. Stories in this book often wrap around one another intriguingly. In “The Year of the Horse,” for example, part of the narrative shifts to rural Russia to examine the life of Paul’s alcoholic wife, Anya. That tale forms a vital keystone in the atmospheric collection, smartly linking the stories that came before.

North’s use of interconnected stories leads to an intentionally fragmented narrative, which works strongly to the advantage of the book. At times the tales are poetic shards that evoke a particular atmosphere: “Little brother sleeps under blue eyes, a tiny O at his lips, whispering his sleep dreams of fresh-cut grass and bubbles, of seashells and broken shoelaces.” At other times the narrative interweaves longer stories to develop the character of Paul, whose subtle observations of the world from childhood onward prove captivating: “The strange laughter from his father—so loud, so taken. His mother’s half caught smiles—trying to hide her teeth.” The writing may be laconic, but it enables North to create emotionally revealing tableaux using short, spare sentences: “They buried his father under cherry trees, as he had wished. Blossoms littered the moist earth and stuck to everyone’s shoes.” Over the course of the book, there are also unexpected literary forays. One gives a flâneur’s view of Manhattan that’s vaguely reminiscent of Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems in its preoccupation with urban miscellany: “He turned south, passing museums and tourists, hotdog carts, horse-drawn carriages, police cars, the zoo where he would not work today, old women in giant sunglasses, little boys in new suits.” Readers will be eager to understand how the stories intersect, and although some may struggle at first with the seemingly disjointed and abstract nature of the narrative, the denouement is well worth the wait.

A collection of cunningly conceived, poetically descriptive tales with layer upon layer of intrigue.

Pub Date: Sept. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-9897153-3-1

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Bittersweet Editions

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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