A startlingly insightful and moving tale of the power and nebulousness of the past.

HEART IN DIXIE

In Bouler’s debut novel, a reporter is tasked with covering the legacy of an infamous segregationist Southern politician and unravels the man’s—and the South’s—controversial past. 

It’s 1999 when word gets out that Thomas Jefferson Davis, the four-time governor of the fictional Southern state of Escambia, is about to die, and reporter Rebecca Tanner is dispatched from Atlanta to cover the story. Davis rose to political prominence in the late 1950s by advocating for a restoration of Southern pride—and for segregation. In 1968, Davis parlayed his popularity into a presidential bid and did better than any other third-party candidate in modern American history. Some view his imprint on Escambia’s politics as a stain—a last gasping effort to maintain the bigoted supremacy of the white man. However, Gordon Halt, a well-known conservative journalist from a prominent newspaper family—his father ran an important periodical and won the Pulitzer Prize—saw Davis’ efforts as an attempt to preserve a way of life that, since the Civil War, had unjustly been under attack: “Gordon’s only goal had been to influence the Davis message on two points: that neither side, North or South, had perfect knowledge of what was best for the negro people and that the South had a special culture and way of life that deserved to be respected at the same time that its faults were addressed.” Then Tanner stumbles upon old recordings of interviews conducted with Billy Trask, Davis’ close aide, which seem to reveal that the governor turned a blind eye to, and may have quietly encouraged, violently racist groups that supported his political aspirations.  Bouler adroitly weaves together two literary genres—a historical novel that’s clearly inspired by the infamous political career of Alabama Gov. George Wallace and a suspenseful crime drama. The story is full of delicately drawn characters: Halt, for example, is a staunch defender of a world that he despondently sees as vanishing, but he also squeamishly remembers the darker side of Davis as well as his own acrimonious political split with his father, who refused to support the governor. Tanner, meanwhile, is a natural reporter—intellectually curious and scrupulously rigorous—but she’s also young, a Midwesterner, and full of her own unexamined biases about the South. In the grand tradition of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, Bouler anatomizes the entire history of the region, assessing its fatal flaws and its singular strengths. What emerges is not merely a sensitive, open-minded account of history, but also a profound reflection on the extraordinary difficulty of such historical remembrance. As Halt defensively observes: “It was a complicated time. I’m sure if he were not lying unconscious in that hospital, Governor Davis would say that he followed the people in that regard, more than he led them. But it’s a complex story. And it was half a century ago.” Overall, the author’s effort offers a rare combination of fictional daring and philosophical restraint. 

A startlingly insightful and moving tale of the power and nebulousness of the past. 

Pub Date: March 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-08286-7

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Escambia Press

Review Posted Online: June 5, 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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