The Card: A Van Stone Novel by Jim Devitt (CreateSpace; $10.99; 248 pages)
When reading Jim Devitt’s self-published novel The Card: A Van Stone Novel, one can’t help but think of the classic cartoon Scooby Doo. In it, three high school students become entangled in a web of intrigue for which one must be willing to suspend belief to a large degree to buy into.
The story starts innocently enough, as 18-year-old Van Stone wins an essay contest to become a clubhouse go-fer for the Seattle Mariners major league baseball organization. This would be a summer dream for many young men, but it is not far into the novel that the connection to baseball is minimized and instead shifts to the mystery surrounding the Moe Berg baseball card given to Van by his father. (For additional information on why this is significant, see The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg by Nicholas Dawidoff. To give away more would be to compromise the ending of this book.)
Van’s father worked for a company called Biotrust, which is involved in high level, top-secret scientific research, before he left to become an independent businessman. Van’s precious possession, his father’s gift, is associated with a vicious plot to uncover a highly classified secret, sucking Van and his two best friends onto both a quest to solve the mystery and a fight for survival.
The book loses steam about a third of the way through despite some unexpected twists in the final 20 or so pages. The fact that Van and his friends never go to the police until a Mariners employee brokers a meeting is hard to fathom, and the reason given for this at the end of the story is nearly untenable. The dialogue between the three best friends is flat in most instances, and the closeness of the relationships of the main characters does not come through to the extent it could.
This reviewer could not find any information indicating that the book is specifically intended for Young Adult audiences. However, taken as such, it has more merit. The simplicity of the storytelling and character development would not be as much of a drawback in that case, and a young, male reader – in particular – might find this an enjoyable book to pick up as professional baseball heads into its playoff season.
A review copy was provided by the author. Dave Moyer is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel, which deals with a young man, the game of baseball and the musician known as Bob Dylan.
The Archaeology of Home: An Epic Set in A Thousand Square Feet of the Lower East Side by Katharine Greider (Public Affairs; $26.99; 352 pages)
Freelance writer Katherine Greider works hard at doing right by her subject, a one hundred and fifty-year-old tenement building in New York City’s Lower East Side where she and her husband, David Andrews, spent several years creating their first real home. The Archaeology of Home is her second book; however, due to the personal nature of the subject matter, it feels like it is the first.
There’s an almost self-conscious and nostalgic tone to the descriptions Ms. Greider provides the reader about her own experiences in the humble abode. She emphasizes the overwhelming evidence that we are heavily impacted by the place we call home. Our daily lives are filled with immediate issues and the layers of other lives lived before our occupancy are quite invisible to us. This layering of past lives seems novel and foreign to someone who currently occupies a 16-year-old development home in California that was brand new when it was purchased.
Ms. Greider begins the book with a painstakingly constructed history of the geography and populations that inhabited the Lower East Side area where Number 239, East Seventh Avenue now sits. The reader is made painfully aware of the appropriation of land from the Native Americans who had existed in the swampy area for hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans who imposed their style of cultivation and land division upon the place. Greider uses a monumental vocabulary that borders on pretentiousness when describing the various waves of inhabitants. Perhaps it is the source material that’s influenced her voice? Regardless, the reader may need the assistance of a dictionary or Google to clarify the meaning of some of the oblique words she’s chosen.
The tale warms up as does Greider’s voice when she gets to the relationships that matter most to her. The two children she and her husband bring into the world during their occupancy of Number 239 are somewhat incidental to the telling. Rather, it is her marriage and the travails she endures sorting out the meaning of living in a space with others that seems to dominate her personal revelations.
Some years into the author’s occupancy, Number 239 is deemed uninhabitable by building officials as its foundation has crumpled and the damp basement is a harsh reminder of the original swamp where the building was placed a century and a half ago. Because Greider and her husband are co-op owners, they must deal with the other members of the co-op in order to decide the fate of the structure. Their struggle is easy to relate to for anyone who has been a dweller in a multi-unit building or planned unit development. No spoiler alert needed here as a quick search of Zillow will reveal the current status of the location.
The Archaeology of Home is an interesting and admirable, though flawed, effort by a New Yorker who clearly loves the notion of small parts of a city being home in the truest sense. The reviewer spent the summer of 1968 living at 404 East 66th Street and enjoyed the sense of community found within the enormity of New York City.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.