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Posts Tagged ‘American Romantic’

bookxmasBrowsing through the year-end “best” lists, mostly I see all the books I have not read. This is not unusual — I don’t read as much or as widely as when it was my job. Now I have the luxury of time and choice, including rereading older books. But I have spotted some of my new favorites on others’ lists: the provocative Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the fantastic The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, the latest crime novels from Tana French, Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman. Still, while I liked Anthony Doerr’s historical novel  All the Light We Cannot See, which is at the top of numerous lists, I didn’t love it, not the way I loved Ward Just’s American Romantic, for example, or Sadie Jones’ Fallout.

Reading is such a subjective pleasure. I enjoy recommending books I’ve enjoyed or I wouldn’t continue writing this blog (going on five years, folks), but I don’t expect everyone to like everything I like. How boring would that be? I am gratified, though, when a friend thanks me for giving her a copy of  The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, which she hadn’t heard of but liked a lot. It’s fun, too, to exchange a virtual high-five with another blogger over Sarah Waters’ atmospheric The Paying Guests.  I pore over book lists all the time in search of titles I might want to read. The year-end round-ups are icing on the cake.

luckyusSo, my TBR/Dear Santa list is long and getting longer. David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You (I’ve been crushing on Frank Bascombe since The Sportswriter). Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Want to Tell You. Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke’s The Cinderella Murder. Already in hand are Michael Connelly’s Burning Room, Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Delia Sherman’s Young Woman in a Garden: Stories. And I’m about a third of the way through Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl because as much as I like her confessional essays, I can only take them in small doses.

This TBR list doesn’t include all the ARCs and digital galleys of books to be published in 2015. Yes, I’ll start summer reading this winter. Lucky me.

Which brings me to Amy Bloom’s wonderful whirligig of a novel, Lucky Us (Random House), which came out the end of July when I was learning to walk on my new hip. My digital galley expired long ago, so I checked it out of the library a couple weeks ago. It was on some best-of-summer lists, and it has one of my favorite covers of the year. But it’s Bloom’s picaresque tale of two half-sisters, Iris and Evie, during the Depression and World War II that makes it one of my 2014 favorites. The plot pops with surprises, the setting shifts from the Midwest to Hollywood to Brooklyn to wartime London, and the cast — the sisters, their con-man father and the flamboyant friends who become part of their makeshift family — is neon-colored. I think you’ll like it.

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just“The bare bones of a well-told story required coherence, ironic asides and a plot as well-knit and tied together as a jigsaw puzzle and somewhere in it a detail as provocative as a cat in a tree.”

That’s from Ward Just’s new novel American Romantic (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), a well-told story if ever there was one, complete with such provocative details as a cat in a tree, a meeting in the jungle, a girl in a hammock, a car over a cliff. All play a part in the life of diplomat Harry Sanders, “a connosieur of the counterfeit and inexplicable.”

Just writes about diplomats and foreign affairs with the silky acuity that John le Carre writes about spies and espionage. As his ambassador mentor tells Harry, “our business is not a straight-line affair. We deal with curves and switchbacks, the yes that means no and the no that means maybe. We are obliged to be comfortable with ambiguity.”

Harry’s career with the State Department is marked by his first posting to Saigon in the early 1960s when his covert negotiations with a communist leader lead to disaster. The event will follow him to more manageable postings in Africa and Europe, as will his memories of a brief affair with the beautiful, restless Sieglinde. Still, his later marriage to the younger May, eager to escape her stern Vermont roots, is mostly happy, and the two move smoothly in diplomatic circles. They are liked and respected, although Harry is never the high-flyer he might have been, and May has secrets of her own. Over time, Harry’s youthful romanticism is tempered by realism, he wonders about America’s place in the world and his own. Is the cottage in the south of France a retreat or a reward? Has Harry made history or has history made him?

American Romantic is Just’s 18th novel, and one of his best. My favorite novel of the year, so far.

 

 

 

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