A preview-review of Mean Business on North Ganson Street: A Novel by S. Craig Zahler, which will be released on September 30, 2014.
Tag Archives: St. Martin’s Press
The Last Enchantments: A Novel by Charles Finch (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 336 pages)
Charles Finch has created a fictional memoir centered on a young man’s year in England studying at Oxford University. The narrator’s name is unknown as he prepares to depart New York and his long time live in girlfriend, Alison. We enter his life as he finishes packing while disentangling himself from Alison. We join him on his ride to the airport and flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Is disillusionment with the political scene all that is spurring him back to academia? Perhaps distancing himself from a failed political campaign and Alison is just what he needs.
There are clues to the era including references to working the campaign trail for John Kerry that provide the reader with a timeframe. Our narrator, Will, is a graduate student in the Oxford English department. After Finch establishes Will as his main character, he indulges himself with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the total Oxford experience, about which he possesses firsthand knowledge.
To his credit, Finch has the wonderful ability to create fresh phrases and hold the reader’s attention with well-described conflicting human emotions. Will and his fellow graduate students, both male and female, are influenced deeply by these emotions. There is a delicate balance among dialogue, inner musings and narrative. Alas, no quotes may be provided, as the review copy of the book sent by the publisher is an Advance Reader’s Edition.
This reviewer was surprised at the sheer volume of beer drinking, punting on the river and hooking up that takes place during Will’s year of living unencumbered. The pompous image this American has of students at Oxford was quickly erased! What’s striking is the ambiguity with which the characters view their relationships. Perhaps the delay of making adult commitments woven throughout The Last Enchantments is the norm for a certain group of folks these days.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
This Is How You Say Goodbye: A Daughter’s Memoir by Victoria Loustalot (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99, 240 pages)
Everyone I dated felt like a hotel room – clean, organized, empty and everyone the same. Nothing less, nothing more.
Victoria Loustalot lost her father, who’d been living a double life, at the age of 11. Her bedridden and HIV-infected parent died at the age of 44. Three years before his death he offered her a trip around the world, with stops in Cambodia, Stockholm and Paris (places that had been important in his life). In this memoir Loustalot embarks on a trek to visit Angor Wat, Stockholm and Paris as an adult in an attempt to find the man she never quite knew: “Everything I was seeing I imagined my father saw, too.”
The book will appeal to those who have traveled to a new place and found it to be magical – “I was unprepared for how (the towers at Angor Wat) were going to make me feel.” What’s a bit strange is that the writer, who grew up in Sacramento, has little love for the California valley town. She describes Sacramento winters as “wet and dark” and adds that her father “had no love” for the place.
In the end, Loustalot may not have come closer to locating her mysterious father’s true character, but she does complete a fulfilling journey of self-discovery. This memoir may lead some readers to fashion a similar journey.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
Note: Loustalot begins her account by describing how hard it was for her to learn to smile. There’s a reserve about her. It’s this reserve that keeps this entertaining true story from becoming a completely engaging and enthralling account.
The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret by Kent Hartman (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 292 pages)
Carol Kaye is the female bass player/musician who came up with and played the opening notes on “The Beat Goes On” (Sonny and Cher), “These Boots Were Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra) and “Midnight Confessions” (The Grass Roots). She also came up with the opening notes for Glen Campbell’s first hit, “Wichita Lineman.” These are the kinds of unique, Behind the Music-style, facts cited in The Wrecking Crew, a book whose second subtitle is, “The unknown studio musicians who recorded the soundtrack of a generation.”
Kent Hartman writes about most of the hit songs recorded between 1962 and 1975, starting with “The Lonely Bull” (Herb Alpert) and ending with “Love Will Keep Us Together” (Captain and Tennille). Special attention is paid to 19 specific songs, and if one or more of these happens to be a favorite of yours, you’ll want to read Hartman’s account to find out how the song(s) were written and recorded. Here’s the list (I’m eliminating the quote marks here for the purpose of clarity): California Dreamin’; Limbo Rock; He’s a Rebel; The Little Old Lady (from Pasadena); What’d I Say; I Got You, Babe; Mr. Tambourine Man; River Deep, Mountain High; Eve of Destruction; Strangers in the Night; Good Vibrations; Let’s Live for Today; Up, Up and Away; Classical Gas; Wichita Lineman; MacArthur Park; Bridge Over Troubled Water; (They Long to Be) Close to You; and Love Will Keep Us Together.
Back in the day when these songs were first released, not too many radio listeners and record buyers realized that the Mamas and the Papas, The Byrds, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, The Grass Roots, The Monkees and others were not playing the instruments on their songs. A group of select musicians, informally known as The Wrecking Crew, recorded the music in Los Angeles studios while the “performers” played the songs on stage when they toured. It was generally a “win-win” situation for both the high-paid touring musicians and the highly paid studio musicians, and it allowed Brian Wilson to create and record on his own while the official members of the band that he created were off touring.
To his credit, Hartman does cover the occasional conflicts that arose, especially among the musicians – such as Creed Bratton of The Grass Roots and Mike Clarke of The Byrds – who felt insulted by not being permitted to play on their band’s “own” recordings. Most of the musicians who couldn’t handle the public fame but private shame were shown the door; one exception being the four members of The Monkees, who eventually gained enough power to overrule their managers and record their own songs.
MacArthur Park is melting in the dark, all the sweet green icing flowing down… Someone left the cake out in the rain, and I don’t think that I can take it, ’cause it took so long to bake it, and I’ll never have that recipe again. (J. Webb)
The stories of how some of these songs came to be written are perhaps even more engaging and intriguing than the tales of how they were recorded. And likely the most interesting of all the composition stories is that behind the song “MacArthur Park” and the song suite by Jimmy Webb that eventually became the best-selling album A Tramp Shining by Richard Harris. It turns out that Webb was quite gun-shy about offering the suite to anyone after it was soundly rejected by the soft-rock group, The Association. The story of how Harris came to hear what he was to sing as “MacArthur’s Park” is almost worth the price of admission itself.
One caveat about The Wrecking Crew is that Carol Kaye has some personal objections to the book which she has expressed on Amazon. (I won’t attempt to summarize her concerns here.) Still, this is a worthwhile read for music fans, musicians and future composers.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. The Wrecking Crew is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book, and as an unabridged audiobook.
Note: The personal story of the musician Glen Campbell (pictured on the cover of The Wrecking Crew) is covered in some detail in this book. Campbell was a member of The Wrecking Crew for several years, as well as a member of The Beach Boys touring band. Interestingly, he went on to record a relatively successful cover version of “MacArthur Park.”
Mike Wallace: A Life by Peter Rader (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, $25.99, 309 pages)
“Day by day, Mike was losing his bearings – slipping inexorably into a darkness that would soon envelop him.”
Like the news anchor in Don Henley’s song “Dirty Laundry”, Mike Wallace could have been an actor but instead he wound up as the attack dog on CBS-TVs vaunted and often over-praised show 60 Minutes. As clarified by biographer Peter Rader, Wallace was in fact an actor, a performer and not an actual investigative reporter. That’s because he did not do his own research, his own homework – he relied on others to do the dirty work and write his material for him (including two supposed autobiographies)… And yet, Wallace was very good at what he did.
To this reader and TV watcher, Wallace always seemed one-dimensional – the type of character so easily satirized on Saturday Night Live. Tick, tock, tick, tock… To Rader’s credit, this is a bio that presents Wallace as an actual three-dimensional man; a gifted and seemingly fearless performer who was actually very fearful of a lot in life. He very much feared the notion of retirement and the prospect of trying to survive out of the public’s eye. Rather managed to stay on past CBS’s mandatory retirement age (receiving an exemption that had not been granted to Walter Cronkite), and continued doing interviews for 60 Minutes until he turned 90! This meant that he outlived his co-workers and friends, and led Wallace to admit: “I think I’ve lived too long. But I don’t feel sorry for myself.”
“Beneath the brash, unnerving persona, the master of the jugular… lies a more hidden man, a man of scars and storms and deep black melancholies.” Eve Berliner on Mike Wallace
As detailed in this frank account, Wallace may not have felt sorry for himself but he constantly dealt with depression. Wallace was to make multiple suicide attempts, he divorced three wives before marrying a fourth, and he was generally – even close to the very end of his life – estranged from his children. On the small screen, Mike Wallace was a tiger – but in his own life, in his own skin, he was often afraid of the shadows of the night.
This is one of those biographies which does not ask you to change or revise your opinion on the subject. If you were not a fan of Wallace (and this reader/viewer was not), this book will not make you an admirer. If you were a fan of Wallace, this book will not require you to dislike the man that he was. Like a great political compromise, it provides enough for those on both sides of the argument to feel both vindicated and not quite pleased.
In Mike Wallace: A Life, Rader has met his self-stated goal of producing a comprehensive bio of a public figure which “sheds light on our understanding of both the world in which we live and also on what it means to be human.” It seems that for the legendary, on-stage performer Mike Wallace, living the day-to-day existence of a normal human being – away from the stage lights, without makeup – was the toughest of all his assignments.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Mike Wallace: A Life is also available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition e-book.
A review of Mike Wallace: A Life by Peter Rader.