The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789 by Edward J. Larson (William Morrow, $29.99, 357 pages)
In retrospect, Washington’s ascent to the presidency seems so foreordained as to need no explanation. It appeared so at the time as well. Virtually everyone expected it, yet Washington’s closest friends and advisors… felt a need to encourage him.
The Return of George Washington by Edward J. Larson may be a totally accurate account of a significant period in the life of Washington, but I found it to be rather flavorless and colorless. The reader learns how it was that Washington was drafted into accepting the role of this country’s first president, but never gets close to understanding who or what he was as a man, a living person. The Washington presented by Larson is gloomy and pessimistic and anguished; writing that he saw “nothing but clouds and darkness before me” in serving as president. Others have painted a portrait of a man who was quite intelligent, cunning and ambitious. He was certainly nothing if not courageous, leading a rag-tag volunteer army against what was then the most powerful nation on earth.
This account contains a few typos that will hopefully be corrected in the trade paper version. Larson also relies upon some strange word selections (“proroguing”) that may reflect an overly academic style.
If one has never read a biography of Washington, this is not a bad place to start but it only covers the period after the Revolutionary War through Washington’s death. There are fuller accounts. The strongest section deals with the machinations of the Constitutional Convention. Law students may find it interesting.
A better choice of a Washington bio fortunately remains in print, Washington: The Indispensable Man by the late James Thomas Flexner (first published in 1974). That account won a National Book Award for biography and a special Pulitzer Prize citation. It is the account of Washington’s life to read; an account that is full, rich, complete and completely convincing when it comes to detailing the greatness of Washington, the man.
Note: The Los Angeles Times labeled Flexner’s biography of Washington, “The most convincing evocation of the man and his deeds in one book.”
A review of The Corrections: A Novel by Jonathan Franzen.
Bunco Babes Gone Wild by Maria Geraci Berkley Trade, $14.00, 316 pages
Bunco Babes comes disguised as a Jennifer Weiner-like chick-lit novel. Like Weiner’s Best Friends Forever, it starts off jerky and disjointed before changing gears and offering the promise of a good story. But in Babes this preface is just a façade, as the story degrades into a sex romp with characters having sex in near-public places. The story is supposedly about Georgia, whose divorced boss/boyfriend does not want to commit to her so she runs off to Florida to lick her wounds – among other things – at her sister’s house. There she runs into a Latin hunk (“Mr. Hunky” to her and her sister’s friends), whose chest muscles are always heaving.
Eventually Georgia begins to forget her ex-employer as she has sex in an exhibit hall closet with Mr. Hunky while hundreds of guests attend a major function at the junction. Author Geraci supposedly warrants a pat on the back for ensuring that her Mr. Hunky uses a condom while jumping on Georgia; he’s a so-called “safe driver.”
Our mothers and aunts read racy novels like those written by Harold Robbins. The Carpetbaggers or A Stone for Danny Fisher would be considered to be of National Book Award quality when compared to the ultra-trashy Babes.
Reprinted courtesy of San Francisco Book Review.
A talented young writer wins the 2007 National Book Award for a serious novel about the Vietnam War. Then he decides to sell a four-part retro breezy crime serial to Playboy magazine. Okay, so it did not make sense to me either, and that serial here becomes an under-200-page tale that reads like a rejected script for Miami Vice. The dialogue reads a lot like a middle-schooler’s first attempt at writing. But then, some may find this sample fascinating: “You know where he lives, right?” “Yes.” “Fine. I said we had ten percent of a plan. It’s more like two percent. I gotta get some smokes.”
Sometimes less is more. In this case, less is less. And, oh yes, there are a number of characters who you just know from the first few pages are going to fight it out at the end of this not-at-all-disguised shaggy dog story.
Is this Johnson’s idea of a $23 practical joke? I don’t know, but let’s just hope that Playboy paid him a Ferrari’s trunk full of money, because recovering from this is going to be a long shot. Bang!
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.00, 196 pages
Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.