Friday, August 28, 2009

Let the Great World Spin

Voices. Colum McCann’s new novel, Let the Great World Spin, presents the voices of multiple characters connected in ways that prove that even in a huge city like New York, we live in community and have an impact on the lives of those around us. The voices of multiple characters present dimensions of a time in 1974 that are true to that time and remind us of our lives today. Tying together each voice is the highwire stunt of Philippe Petit when he walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. The cast of characters presents the city and the community in its fullness: young artists; hookers on drugs trying to raise children; a street priest; a Park Avenue judge; a support group of women who lost sons in the Vietnam War. Love, sorrow, redemption and understanding fill the pages of Let the Great World Spin. As McCann notes on page 349, “The world spins. We stumble on. It is enough.” However you stumble along in this world, one or more characters will resonate with you and your life. McCann’s lyrical writing soars, and there’s great satisfaction and joy to be found in reading Let the Great World Spin.

Rating: Four-star (Highly Recommended)

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Lucky. Psychological novels can be acquired taste, and some readers are likely to be put off by the terror and insanity within George Dawes Green’s novel, Ravens. Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko are driving from Ohio to Florida for a vacation. They stumble on the community where the Boatwright family has just won a $318 million dollar lottery. The lucky winners find their family held hostage to McBride’s demand for them to give him half their winnings or he’ll have Zderko kill family members. The novel is at its best in maintaining the psychological tension among several characters strained to the point of breakdown. At its worst, the behavior of most characters becomes so inconsistent and without thought that the tension breaks under a reader’s incredulity at certain behavior.

Rating: Two-star (Mildly Recommended)

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Inherent Vice

Mood. Thomas Pynchon transports readers of his new novel, Inherent Vice, to the early 1970s in Southern California. He captures the mood of that time in many dimensions, especially in the form of drugs, rock and roll and movies. There must be references to four dozen songs that will delight music lovers. Pynchon’s prose is word perfect, the dialogue perfect for the era, and the plots were hilarious. Protagonist Larry Doc Sportello is larger than life, mellow on weed, and in the thick of so many subplots that each successive one is funnier than the one before. The names of Pynchon’s characters were also funny, and the presence of the early Internet will make even geeks laugh. Inherent Vice provides an amusing and entertaining excursion to a place and time that seems more amusing and quaint now than it seemed at the time.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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The Amateurs

Games. Each character in Marcus Sakey’s new thriller, The Amateurs, exhibits poor judgment consistently. Four individuals have gravitated toward each other for a regular Thursday night bar meeting at which they play games to avert attention from the emptiness of their lives, and their struggle to find meaning, purpose and satisfaction. As Sakey has done in his earlier books, he’s created individuals who feel the way many readers feel, but who do things that most of us would never do. What these four amateurs do will require a reader to suspend a lot of disbelief. Sakey keeps the tension high, the action interesting, and allows readers to become immersed in the story. The Amateurs delivers thrilling entertainment.

Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

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