Tag Archives: New York

New York State of Mind

The Widow of Wall Street: A Novel by Randy Susan Meyers (Atria Books, $26.00, 352 pages)

widow of wall street

As with The Murderer’s Daughters, The Widow of Wall Street transports the reader into situations that few people experience.  Author Randy Susan Meyers  maintains her running theme of human frailty in this, her fourth novel.

A bitter opening chapter sends the tale to nearly the end of its long and treacherous timespan, from August 1960 to 2009.  Author Meyers has taken the horrific scandal that was the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme and reworked it into an up close and personal morality piece that provides raw emotion and insight into the lives of her fictional characters.  While the general premise of the telling closely mirrors the real life front page story, the details that are specific to Meyer’s characters are of her own invention.

Phoebe has a better than ordinary life living on a nicer street in Brooklyn.  She’s pretty and doesn’t look like the rest of her Jewish family.  At age fifteen Phoebe has become smitten with Jake Pierce who has just turned eighteen.  Jake’s family is down the economic ladder from Phoebe’s.  Jake is ambitious, agressive and determined to get ahead.

As the chapters unfold, the pace of the tale quickens.  Phoebe and Jake’s life as a married couple in New York has its up and downs.  Jake is clearly obsessed with making money and Phoebe feels she has been relegated to a boring housewife life.  Jake is a risk-taker and he lacks the sort of empathy that would temper his personal drive.  Consistent with the Bernard Madoff scenario, Jake borrows money from his wife’s family, which as we know puts them at jeopardy of being his victims.

Author Meyers does an excellent job of depicting her characters.  Jake is hard edged and deluded, as a Ponzi scheme boss must be to maintain the illusions he creates.  Phoebe, for the most part, lacks the fortitude and willingness to see past the glittering life she leads as the scheme grows and grows.

While the tale is not original, the writing is superb.  Readers will wonder at the lives led by the super rich.  It’s like being behind the scenes of the pages of People magazine.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Widow of Wall Street was released on April 11, 2017.

 

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Blood Simple

In the Blood: A Novel by Lisa Unger (Touchstone, $25.99, 352 pages)

in-the-blood

A “normal” or “sane” childhood won’t be found in this, the latest thriller from Lisa Unger. The setting is The Hollows, a small rural town outside New York City. Lana Granger, a trust fund baby, is the central character. Lana attends Sacred Heart, a small local college, and is a fourth year psychology student. She follows the advice of her trust fund manager to begin earning money. With the help of her faculty advisor, Dr. Langdon Hewes, she finds a part time job caring for Luke Kahn, a deeply disturbed boy.

The intersection of Lana’s scarred past and Luke’s twisted mind form the center of the plot that includes the disappearance of Lana’s college roommate. Former cop Jones Cooper and his wife, Maggie, who is Lana’s psychologist, provide stability and logic for the reader amid some bizarre happenings. The two narrators, Lana and an unknown person, are clearly troubled souls in search of relief from their tormented childhoods.

Ms. Unger writes in crisp, restrained dialogue that taunts the reader. She employs a switch in type font technique to heighten the tension and strengthen the undercurrent that runs through this, her eighth thriller.

Highly recommended, but not for the faint of heart.

Ruta Arellano

In the Blood audio

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on January 7, 2014.

“An absolute corker of a thriller.” Dennis Lehane

The Audible Audio Edition is read by Gretchen Mol and Candace Thaxon.

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Life in the Fast Lane

Indiscretion: A Novel by Charles Dubow (William Morrow, $24.99, 400 pages)

Indescretion 3D

First-time author Charles Dubow has captured the sophisticated conversation style often heard in wealthy and privileged social circles such as the one in East Hampton, New York during the summer season. Dubow is careful in avoiding parody, smoothing the exchanges to eliminate the stilted manner so often used in books featuring this sort of crowd — think The Great Gatsby.

Although the setting is East Hampton and the time is present day; the story could easily be set in the 1940s. This reviewer experienced feelings reminiscent of the those felt while watching my all-time favorite movie, Laura; however, Indiscretion is not a mystery. Moreover, as the story unfolds it takes a back seat to the interactions of the characters and the locale. Perhaps it is a morality play.

Not everyone will pick up on the specificity that Dubow uses to pinpoint the sort of people his characters are. The main characters are fraternity brothers having joined Delta Kappa Epsilon, Deke for short. This reviewer sought out a picture of the author and it came as no surprise that he bears a strong resemblance to the Dekes I knew at Cal. He may even wear penny loafters without sox as was the Deke-preferred style back in the late 1960s.

The main narrator of this book, Walter Gervais, is an independently-wealthy attorney who owns a summer cottage next door to a National Book Award winner and his wife. The author, Harry Winslow, and his wife, Madeline, are the perfect couple married for many years. They have one son, Johnny, who completes their family. Walter, Harry and Madeline are in their 40s. Walter has always loved Maddy (short for Madeline) and he contents himself with being an honorary member of their family.

As the title suggest, there is an indiscretion that pulls apart the perfect couple. A mysterious, self-possessed and beautiful young 26-year-old woman named Claire insinuates herself into their world. Claire is the current interest of a shallow and overbearing man. As fate would have it, Claire joins Clive for a weekend in the Hamptons where they are guests at a dinner hosted by Harry and Maddy. Claire soaks in the cozy and charming atmosphere in their home. It is a stark contrast to Clive’s hard-edged modern house.

The narrator shifts among Walter, Maddy and Claire are well executed and add depth to the telling. As each addresses the reader, the tale takes on complexity. Dubow is an excellent writer and, hopefully, this first novel will be followed by others.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Indiscretion… marks the debut of a remarkably gifted writer and story teller whose unique voice bears all the hallmarks of an exciting, new literary talent.” Amazon

Indiscretion was released on July 9, 2013.

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Coming Up Next…

indiscretion

A review of the newly released Indiscretion: A Novel by Charles Dubow.

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Dreams

Talk about a dream.   Try to make it real.   You wake up in the night with a fear so real.   Bruce Springsteen, “Badlands”

Diamond Ruby: A Novel by Joseph Wallace (Touchstone, $16.00, 480 pages)

Ruby Thomas can throw a baseball hard – harder than most major league pitchers.   But, in the 1920s, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, popularized in the film A League of Their Own, did not yet exist, and the legal protections for female athletes afforded by 1972’s Title IX legislation were a very long way off.

In Joseph Wallace’s Diamond Ruby, an outbreak of the Spanish Influenza virus devastates Ruby’s family, and – as a very young girl – she must assume responsibility for the care of her two young nieces.   Needing to make money, she becomes a sideshow performer at an amusement park.   News of Ruby’s remarkable prowess travels quickly, but under the iron fist of her abusive boss, Ruby is essentially enslaved with no ready escape.

Two great athletes, Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, check out Ruby’s show and befriend her.   Gamblers and booze smugglers have their own designs on how to use her for their own means.   Eventually, the owner of a professional start-up league spots her.   His plan is to sign her for her promotional value to help the league become profitable.   Nearly everyone wants to control Ruby and make money off of her, except a friend who takes her in during her time of greatest need, a law enforcement official who looks out for her, and, ironically, many of the athletes in the story whose respect she comes to earn.

Throughout the book, Ruby is frazzled by trying to devise ways to break free from the powerful men who want to use her for their own gain, coping with threats of the Ku Klux Klan who torment her because she is half Jewish, and experiencing the prejudice of the men who run organized baseball.   She does all this while dutifully supporting and protecting her nieces.   All she really wants to have is the joy of doing what she loves most – the opportunity to pitch on her own terms.

The story starts out a bit slowly as the tale of Ruby’s impoverished childhood and series of misfortunes unfolds.   For a while it is difficult to discern exactly what to make of the story beyond the fact that the only luck for Ruby is bad luck.   However, when things get going in the second half of the book, the reader will be glad they stuck with it.   Things move rapidly and the pages turn easily.  

The improbable convergences of events that bring the story to a close are cleverly constructed.   The ending is both heartwarming and hilarious.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

This book was purchased.   Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, which happens to be about baseball.

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Of Missing Persons

The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke (Riverhead Books; $25.95; 320 pages)

Someone once wrote: “We fear death the way children fear going into the dark.”   Meghan O’Rourke

There’ll come a time when all your hopes are fading/ When things that seemed so very plain/ Became an awful pain/ Searching for the truth among the lying/ And answered when you’ve learned the art of dying…   But you’re still with me.   George Harrison (“The Art of Dying”)

Meghan O’Rourke has presented us with a serious, somber and thoughtful memoir about the grief she suffered when her mother died at the age of fifty-five.   Although her mother’s age is noted, one has the impression that she would have felt the same burden if her mother had lived to be 100, as O’Rourke was simply unprepared to live in a world without its (to her) most important resident.   As she states so well:  “One of the grubby truths about a loss is that you don’t just mourn the dead person, you mourn the person you got to be when the lost one was alive…  One night (my brother) Liam said to me, as we were driving home from my dad’s to Brooklyn, ‘I am not as sad as I was, but the thing is, it’s just less fun and good without her.'”

In order to deal with her pain, O’Rourke conducted a personal study of death, the standard fear of it, religious beliefs and traditions surrounding it, and the vast amount of research that has been done on the human grieving process.   She even touches upon grief in animal colonies.   One discovery she made in the process is that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ work on the stages of grief has been grossly misinterpreted.   These were not intended to be the stages that mourners – those left alive – go through; they were intended to represent the stages that the chronically ill pass through.

O’Rourke is at her best when she discusses her own fears with us.   She has been afraid, since childhood, of the notion of death but it remained an abstract, if frightening, notion up until her mom’s passing.   Then her grief became all-encompassing and something she could not put aside in order to lead a “normal” life.   Grief, in a sense, made her insane for a period of time but it also taught her some very valuable  lessons – the chief among them being that one has to focus on death in order to truly appreciate life.   As her father told her many months after his wife’s death, he had always focused on what he didn’t have; now he had learned to look at what he did have in the world and in the universe.

After a loss you have to learn to believe the dead one is dead.   It doesn’t come naturally.

There’s a sense of accepting humbleness that permeates O’Rourke’s account – although she was raised a Catholic, she refers numerous times to Buddhism.   If there’s a weakness in the telling, it’s a factor that naturally affects most memoirs, a tendency to make one’s own life sound more important than that of the others that share the planet with the writer.   And, like Julie Metz in Perfection, O’Rourke tends to tell us more than we actually want to know about her social (meaning sexual) life.

At one point, O’Rourke comes off as strangely naive in regard to social relationships.   At the time that her mother died (it’s Christmas), an old boyfriend – whom she once dropped without explanation – comes back into her life, and O’Rourke wonders why, “…he always seemed to be holding back – why, I did not know.”   The reader wants to scream back at her, “Because you dumped him when you went away to college!”   (The ex was simply acting like a normal, scarred, self-protective human being.)

But these are minor points, because O’Rourke succeeds quite well in making us examine death as something both macro and micro; as something that must be fully understood before we can make realistic choices about what is most important in our lives.   In her almost philosophical approach to examining death and dying, she has written not only a monumental love story for the person who has gone missing in her life, she has also placed death in its natural and proper context.

(I think I wanted to grow up to be my mother, and it was confusing to me that she already was her.)

This is, in the end, a work about acceptance – the good with the bad – survival with death, the sudden eclipse of a life and eternal love.   O’Rourke masterfully teaches us about the art of dying, a matter for both hearts and heads (minds).

Very, very well done.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.   “She is gone, and I will be, too, one day…  all the while my brain will be preoccupied by the question of death.   And that makes it hard, at times, to pay my bills…”


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Coming Up Next…

A review of Cleaning Nabokov’s House: A Novel by Leslie Daniels.

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