A spellbinding road trip.

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SAINT JAMES INFIRMARY

A man and his buddy’s corpse journey through the South and its musical legacy in this novel.

It’s 1978, and washed-up folk singer Jim Logan is hanging out in New Orleans with his friend and one-time guitar partner Tom Parrish when Tom up and dies. Fulfilling a promise, Jim sticks Tom in a pine coffin, loads him into a 1951 Ford Country Squire station wagon, and sets out to drive him to Richmond, Virginia, for an improvised burial—all the while pursued by lowlifes in a Chrysler who want to retrieve a valuable diamond Tom swallowed before he died. That’s all the plot device needed to propel this luxurious shaggy dog story onward as Jim drives the back roads, observes the world passing by, and reminisces about his past, goaded by mellow conversational interjections from the voice of Tom’s ghost. The loose-jointed tale unfolds in episodic chapters, almost stand-alone short stories, that introduce Jim to people and places with a musical resonance. He visits the grave of a Delta bluesman; bestows his guitar on a poor boy; gives a ride to a woman in red singing a mysterious song; tours the Shiloh battlefield and discovers a Union soldier’s letter home describing the music of runaway slaves; and visits Elvis Presley’s birthplace, finding it a site of brisk commerce and heartbroken recollections for fans of the King. Jim also meets Chilly Antone, the once-well-known Senator of Western Swing, lobbying to get into the Country Music Hall of Fame; buys a banjo from a hillbilly luthier; spends an afternoon with an old flame; and drinks with other women, hard-boiled and softhearted, in various bars where honky-tonk jukebox soundtracks play in the background. Heslin’s (The Collapse of the Broadway Central, 2018) atmospheric yarn is less a linear narrative than a collection of character studies, landscapes, and soundscapes tied together by Jim’s ruminations on his own and the nation’s souls. It takes in an America of small-town cafes featuring seen-it-all waitresses, stolid national park rangers putting a wholesome face on the bloody chaos of the past, and the ceaseless current of traffic on highways washing past an archipelago of gas stations, set to the ubiquitous sound of pop, rock, and country and braying AM disk jockeys. The author skillfully evokes all these varied voices, from washerwomen to drunken sailors to prim grandmothers, in vignettes that are by turns pungent, funny, melancholy, and wistful, all rendered in a wonderfully impressionistic vernacular that brings to mind a blend of Faulkner and Kerouac. (“In the middle of a thunderstorm, smack inside the corporate limit of Burma Shave, you pick up Bessie Smith and you think you must be drifting off, there’s been no broadcast since the chicken and cornbread at Pep’s Missing Link Cafe, forty miles or so, but there she is, courtesy of a handful of watts somewhere, there she is on the outskirts of winter wheat with the victrola in her voice and your tank more full than empty.”) It’s not always clear where Jim and Tom are headed, but readers who like superb prose and compelling characters will be happy to ride along.

A spellbinding road trip.

Pub Date: May 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-941138-92-2

Page Count: 170

Publisher: Three Knolls Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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