November Novel Ideas run the gamut!

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 While “Hell at the Breech” was an exciting read, southern writer Tom Franklin has outdone himself with “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter,” a book that holds you mesmerized. “Crooked Letter” features characters that elicit sympathy and a plot with the twists and turns of a Mississippi rattler.

A crime is committed at the onset — a gunman clad in a ghoulish mask opens fire on Larry, nicknamed “Scary Larry,” a man without a friend. Larry is reminiscent of Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.” Though Larry isn’t mentally challenged, he’s lonely — has been for years.

In high school 20 years earlier, Larry was ostracized and bullied by classmates, and when a teenage girl disappears the townspeople of Chabot, Miss., think he’s murdered her.

As a boy, Larry’s only friend was Silas, a poor African-American boy who lived in a run-down cabin on the property bordering Larry’s. Larry and Silas are belittled because of their friendship, harassed by Larry’s abusive father and the father of a girl who lives nearby, a fast gal with a questionable reputation, the one who vanishes and is believed dead.

After 20 years or so, Larry and Silas find themselves back in Chabot. Larry operates an auto repair shop with few customers and remains the town “freak,” yelled at by young people and avoided by others, tending his mother’s chickens and visiting her in a nursing home.

Silas is now a constable known as “32,” with a girlfriend and an ugly secret. He’s got his hands full at present — another young girl has disappeared and Larry is once again suspect.

Themes of friendship and racism abound in this book about the hearts we break when we judge others. It’s a novel about blame and forgiveness that will leave readers wishing there were more gentle souls in the world like Larry.

 


 

Read it—Then Let’s Talk

Jonathan Franzen has become a household word since 2001 when he published “The Corrections,” a book that netted him the National Book Award.

Franzen, who attended high school in Webster Groves, is once again making headlines and wowing critics with “Freedom,” a No. 1 bestseller, a phenomenon for a book being defined as the literary diamond of the decade — and beyond.

Far from an easy read, the public has embraced the book, a novel that’s impossible to imagine writing — a gargantuan effort with more characters than you can count and about as many story lines.

For the sheer craft and talent involved in writing the book, I advise reading it, but be prepared to be bogged down in spots — as Franzen sets off on yet another tangent.

In a nutshell, “Freedom” is a book about a middle-class, Midwestern dysfunctional family dealing with lots of issues. The story begins when life for the Berglunds seems OK.

Patty is a happy, stay-at-home mom, or that’s what she’d like for everyone in the neighborhood to think, but she has tons of baggage. Walter, her husband, is a simple man who only sees the best in her — but not in Joey, their teenage son, who causes a serious split in the family when he decides to move into his girlfriend’s house.

His big sister Jessica is the only Berglund who seems to have it together, other than Walter, who initially seems normal — but as the years advance succumbs to moral decay and the sins of the flesh after Patty beds down with his best friend, an aging rocker who can’t be trusted.

Like Shakespeare, Franzen’s characters reflect the turmoil of the world they inhabit, a world rife with political strife, environmental issues — you name it, they face it, including phone sex, in a section of the book that quite honestly sickened me.

Would I suggest reading “Freedom?” Absolutely. Franzen’s writing is amazing. Literary genius? That’s for you to decide.

 


Marlo on Dad, Laughter and Life

Though you’ll find humor on the pages of “Growing Up Laughing, My Story and the Story of Funny,” by Marlo Thomas, you’ll finish her autobiography with a few tears too.

In the final pages, Marlo addresses the sudden death of father, celeb Danny Thomas, at age 79. His passing helped her realize “that love endures. Even years later the love remains as before. It doesn’t diminish. It doesn’t divert. It endures, intact.”

There’s little doubt Danny Thomas would be proud of his daughter’s new book, a testament to a loving childhood surrounded by Hollywood greats that kept us howling in clubs, on television and in the movies.

Marlo has stories to tell about those heydays, brought up in the company of the Who’s Who of humor, each a headliner — Art Linkletter, Don Rickles, Sid Caesar, George Burns, Buddy Hackett, the list goes on and on.

Famous folks were old hat for a girl who later staked her claim to fame as the star of “That Girl.” With Loretta Young as a godmother, how could you go wrong?

As Marlo brings us up to date on her life, she intersperses her reminisces with interviews conducted with comic greats like Tina Fey, Joan Rivers, Jerry Seinfeld and more.

While entertaining, it’s Marlo’s lifeline that’s most rewarding — her writing authentic, her goals admirable. “That Girl” continues to reinvent herself, yet still seems like the girl next door.

Marlo Thomas will be at the St. Louis County Library, 1640 S. Lindbergh, Thursday, Oct. 28, at 7 p.m. as part of the Fontbonne University/KMOX Book Club. The event is free, but reservations are required and can be made by calling 314-444-1827.

Reprinted with permission, Missourian Publishing Company. Copyright 2010.

 

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