CITIZEN WASHINGTON

Compelling biographical fiction that probes the unlikelihoods and uncertainties behind George Washington’s hallowed historical presence. Just in time for Presidents” Weekend comes another fictional rendering that hunts for the man behind the myth, told in Rashomon-like narratives attributed to real and imaginary eyewitnesses, from a skillful school-of-Michener epic novelist (Annapolis, 1996, etc.) and nonfictional historian of the religious right (With God on Our Side, 1996). The conceit that starts the tale is a mystery: Why did Martha “Patsy” Washington burn a collection of personal letters on the night her husband died? Just after Washington is buried, crusty Hesperus Draper, a self-made colonial who worked his way up from tidewater trader to colonial solider, landholder, and anti-Federalist newspaper publisher, pays his naive, youthful writer-wannabe nephew, Christopher Draper, a king’s ransom to find out what those letters may have contained. He advises Christopher to pretend to be writing a biography of Washington in order to gain access to those who knew Washington while he was alive. Martin’s story takes shape in the form of Christopher’s vernacular notes, supplemented by conveniently discovered written memoirs from those who died before Washington. The visceral, blood-in-the-trenches recollections of the fictional Hesperus, and the brotherly affections of Washington’s slave, Jacob, are among the best of many vividly imaginative constructions. We also get strikingly different glimpses of Washington from Silverheels, a Native American; from Washington’s coquettish lover, Mrs. Sarah “Sally” Fairfax; from the fretful Martha; and from Washington’s numerous political and military rivals. These contrary impressions reveal a postmodern enigma: a conflicted character whose every act was darkened by premonitions of failure—the kind of leader “that if he had not really been one of the best intentioned men in the world . . . might have been a very dangerous one.” A strongly satisfying, eminently readable saga that suggests we—ll never completely understand, or condone, the contradictions and inconsistencies of which great leaders are made.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 1999

ISBN: 0-446-52172-8

Page Count: 592

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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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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