American Landscape by Robert M. Tucker

American Landscape

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Tucker, in his debut, offers a detailed novel of 1930s America.

In 1939, FBI agent Howard Gimble is assigned to investigate his childhood sweetheart, union organizer Yelena Ivanov. When he follows her across the country by train, Tucker’s descriptions put readers right there at his shoulder; every detail is in place—the Pullman car he travels in, the brass fixtures, the bed and fold-down writing desk. During flashbacks, the author details the smells of the bakery where Gimble once worked and the shop where Ivanov’s father made violins and other musical instruments—a series of sights, sounds and smells that deepen the narrative. The novel often cites facts and historical details that provide helpful context, even when these sections tend to stray too far from the characters and main action. It’s understandable, as Tucker tries to encompass an entire age in this epic story—covering everything from union organizing, to the reign of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, to Native American issues. The story provides plenty for readers to grab on to once the action reaches the microcosm of Mesa, N.M., where, during a strike, Gimble, Ivanov, federal marshal Everett Carmody and reporter Randolph Logan stand on the side of the workers and the Navajo on the local reservation; on the other side, Hoover and corrupt FBI agents Halen Braun and Clyde Tolson try to suppress supposed enemies of the state. Although the author’s attention to detail is solid throughout, the novel tends to tell rather than show, divulging characters’ first-person thoughts when more subtle gestures might have provided a tighter, more compelling read. Early on, for example, the story spells out Gimble’s and Ivanov’s romantic feelings, which partly deflates the impact of the flashbacks in which they first meet. That said, the same flashbacks contain effective moments, as when the young Gimble watches Ivanov and her sister, two musical prodigies, practice their instruments.

An ambitious but unevenly executed historical novel.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0615760902
Page count: 440pp
Publisher: Heartland Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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