A very fine novel about a mother’s love and a son’s survival.



A woman and her son live with bad judgment, bad company, and bad breaks in Triant’s latest novel.

Fay is a water tank escape artist with a sketchy touring show called “Amazing Humans.” She and her teenage son, Dickie, aka Pete Smith, and her loser boyfriend, Johnson, are scraping by in Key West. A letter from her friend Ginny says that the Amazing Humans act has a gig at a rehab place in Vietnam, where there is big money to be made. Off Fay goes, and of course there is no big money to be made, and Vietnam is a dangerous hellhole. She is desperate to get back home, where she has left her son in the dubious care of Johnson. Chuck, her obsessive lover and the owner of Amazing Humans, will not let her break her yearlong contract. But break it she does when a white phosphorous, or “Willie Pete,” device explodes and she winds up back in the States, alive but hideously disfigured and desperate to find Dickie. Meanwhile Dickie flees Key West, winds up in New York City, and eventually makes a sort-of life for himself in Provincetown on Cape Cod with his friend Spin, who has AIDS. Having known only trailers in his youth, Dickie longs for a home that’s not on wheels. Fay, in her transactional world, always comes out on the short end of transactions. In this novel from the author of The Treehouse(2018), the symbolism comes through loud and clear: Fay is an escape artist who can’t escape her circumstances, and Dickie was left with a disability from early polio after his mother rejected the vaccine. Those who expect a feel-good novel to come from all this will be disappointed. But they will be captured by very good writing and wonderful portraits of Fay and Dickie, who eventually achieves one of his dreams—and who, in the last line of the book, reveals something that suggests that he may finally be escaping from his mother’s water tank.

A very fine novel about a mother’s love and a son’s survival.

Pub Date: April 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64742-405-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.


A fictional account of the agony and ecstasy of making a movie, from someone who’d know.

For his sprightly debut novel, actor/writer/national treasure Hanks—author of the story collection Uncommon Type, 2017—imagines the making of Knightshade: The Lathe of Firefall, a mashup of Marvel-esque superhero fare, war story, and artsy melodrama. The movie’s concept seems like an unworkable, even bad idea, which is part of the point—Hanks stresses the notion that successful movies aren’t just a matter of story but the people who make them. So he’s assembled an engrossing cast of characters: Bob Falls, the World War II vet who served as a flamethrower in the Pacific theater and became a PTSD–struck biker; Robby Andersen, the nephew who turned him into alternative-comix antihero Firefall; Bill Johnson, the well-decorated Spielberg-ian director who acquires the Firefall property and writes the script; and the small army of actors, assistants, and technicians charged with shooting the film in the Northern California town of Lone Butte—on time, lest morale collapse and the budget inflate. Hanks ably depicts how easily things derail. The male lead’s ego wrecks the shooting schedule. A stray social media post complicates security. On-set flirtations threaten a marriage. But the novel reflects the sunny stick-to-it-iveness of many of Hanks’ roles, and his central thesis is that every movie’s true hero is anybody who reduces friction. To that end, his most enchanting and best-drawn characters are the director’s assistant, Al Mac-Teer (full name Allicia), and Ynez Gonzalez-Cruz, a ride-share driver with no movie experience but a knack for problem-solving. “Most of the film business is done by meeting folks,” one character says, and Hanks suggests that meeting the right people—and being kind to them—is half the battle of successful moviemaking. Overly romantic? Consider the source. Regardless, it’s a well-turned tale of a Hollywood (maybe) success. (Sikoryak illustrates some comic-book pages related to the Firefall backstory and film.)

A loose-limbed, bighearted Hollywood yarn.

Pub Date: May 9, 2023

ISBN: 9780525655596

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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