A LONER’S STORY
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction, Denis Johnson’s atmospheric novella, Train Dreams, is set in the early 1900s in the American West. Arriving in the Idaho wilderness as a young orphan, Robert Grainier comes of age, makes a living as a logger and slowly awakens to the changes of a new century. Grainier marries and becomes a father, only to lose his little family in a tragedy from which he never fully recovers. After the loss, he hunkers down in the wilderness, building a cabin where he lives in solitude. The modern world intrudes at times in the form of airplanes and television, yet Grainier stubbornly adheres to a hardscrabble way of life. Adapting a lean, finely honed prose style, Johnson has fashioned a starkly beautiful portrait of a man struggling to find his place in the world. Brief yet visionary, this is a quiet classic from a master storyteller.
In her entertaining memoir, The Memory of All That, novelist Katharine Weber gives readers a behind-the-scenes look at her funny—and famous—family. Weber’s maternal grandmother was Kay Swift, the Broadway composer who had a decade-long affair with George Gershwin. At the start of their romance, Kay was married to James Paul Warburg, a banker and advisor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Over the course of this fascinating narrative, Weber offers snapshots of her remarkable relatives, including well-known financier Paul Warburg and the famously odd art historian Aby Warburg. Weber’s own father, Sidney Kaufman, was a philanderer and filmmaker who brought smell to the movies for the first time using a method called AromaRama. With its rich cast of characters, unforgettable incidents and sly dialogue, Weber’s mesmerizing family tale has enchantments aplenty—enough to rival any piece of fiction.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS
J. Courtney Sullivan, author of the 2009 bestseller Commencement, offers a compelling and resonant family drama in her second novel, Maine. It’s summertime, and the female members of the Kelleher clan are gathering at their family home in Maine for a reunion that’s full of surprising revelations. Overseen by strong-willed grandmother Alice, who, most afternoons, enjoys a strong drink and a cigarette, the clan includes 32-year-old Maggie, who is secretly pregnant; Maggie’s mother, Kathleen, who dreads the summer get-together; and Ann Marie, Alice’s meek daughter-in-law. As the summer unfolds, each woman comes to terms with herself and the family in ways she never expected. Writing with compassion and insight, Sullivan dramatizes female relationships in a style that is both original and illuminating. Her expertly crafted novel perfectly captures the atmosphere of the Kellehers’ transformative summer—a season fraught with change and growth.
National Book Award winner Johnson is back, and, though brief, his book is sure to pack a punch (just think about Tree of Smoke). Robert Grainer, a day laborer in the early 20th-century American West, suffers all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune even as the country is radically transformed into something bigger and brighter. With a reading group guide; grab it.[Page 68]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
National Book Award winner Johnson (Tree of Smoke) has skillfully packed an epic tale into novella length in this account of the life of Idaho Panhandle railroad laborer Robert Grainer. Born in 1886, orphaned by age six and placed with cousins, he's not outwardly remarkable or compelling as the episodes of his life unfold. He marries Gladys and fathers Kate while working for a timber company, and he witnesses disparate events and characters from influenza epidemics and the advent of automobiles and airplanes to an unscheduled area stop by a young Elvis Presley. Few if any of these leave much of an impression on Robert or on a reader; instead, the appeal here lies in setting and mood. The gothic sensibility of the wilderness and isolated settings and Native American folktales, peppered liberally with natural and human-made violence, add darkness to a work that lingers viscerally with readers. VERDICT Fans of the literary end of historical fiction (with a dash of magical realism), American West/Pacific Northwest settings, or authors like Bret Harte or Cormac McCarthy should appreciate this one. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 3/7/11.]--Jenn B. Stidham, Houston Community Coll. Northeast, TX[Page 77]. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Readers eager for a fat follow-up to Tree of Smoke could be forgiven a modicum of skepticism at this tidy volume--a reissue of a 2003 O. Henry Prize-winning novella that originally appeared in the Paris Review--but it would be a shame to pass up a chance to encounter the synthesis of Johnson's epic sensibilities rendered in miniature in the clipped tone of Jesus' Son. The story is a snapshot of early 20th-century America as railroad laborer Robert Granier toils along the rails that will connect the states and transform his itinerant way of life. Drinking in tent towns and spending summers in the wilds of Idaho, Granier misses the fire back home that leaves no trace of his wife and child. The years bring diminishing opportunities, strange encounters, and stranger dreams, but it's not until after participating in the miracle of flight--and a life-changing encounter with a mythical monster--that Granier realizes what he's been looking for. An ode to the vanished West that captures the splendor of the Rockies as much as the small human mysteries that pass through them, this svelte stand-alone has the virtue of being a gem in itself, and, for the uninitiated, a perfect introduction to Johnson. (Sept.)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC