Johnston is a master of understatement wringing honest nostalgic emotion from simple declarative sentences. Here he offers a...

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BALTIMORE'S MANSION

A MEMOIR

A beguiling combination of family history and autobiography, this first nonfiction work from Ontario novelist Johnston (The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, 1999) forms a revealing appendage to his own fictional works.

We are given the experiences of three generations of Johnstons in a carefully shaped narrative that blends together chronological history, the adult Johnston’s backward looks at his own childhood, and fictionalized reconstructions of quietly climactic moments in the lives of Johnston’s paternal grandfather Charlie and father Art. The former was a blacksmith and fisherman in “Ferryland,” the original name of the colony founded in the 1620s by England’s Lord Baltimore (the site of whose mansion, long since destroyed, is still sought by archaeologists and scholars). Art was a better educated, more opinionated sort who went away to college vowing to escape the hardships that had claimed Charlie, but ended up a “fish-preoccupied, fish-infatuated man” who would become a federal fisheries inspector. Their episodic stories are unified by the Johnstons’ (most especially Art’s) ongoing hatred of the “Confederation” (with mainland Canada, accomplished in 1947) and its avatar—the resourceful politician Joseph Smallwood—a theme echoed in such vivid sequences as young Wayne’s train journey across the province (in protest against “the first trans-island paved road” and the advent of buses) and a wistful description of the author’s leavetaking from home (for college, and the hope of becoming a writer). The book climaxes with Johnston’s movingly imagined re-creation of the “final days,” during which Charlie and Art separately (and dourly) await the dawning of Confederation, and with it the loss of their country’s independence and their awareness of their own powerlessness and mortality.

Johnston is a master of understatement wringing honest nostalgic emotion from simple declarative sentences. Here he offers a rich display of the rhetorical skills and heartfelt cultural recall that make his novels so enchanting and rewarding.

Pub Date: June 16, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-50031-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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