A smoothly told, unexpectedly affecting foray into a lesser-known chapter of the literary giant's life.

SERGEANT SALINGER

Charyn's latest foray into historical fiction is a richly imagined account of J.D. Salinger's years as a combatant and counterintelligence officer in Europe during World War II.

The book opens in April 1942 at the Stork Club, where the rising short story writer has memorable encounters with the imperious Walter Winchell and the dashing but down-sliding Ernest "Hemmy" Hemingway. Sonny, as Salinger is called, is the guest of Oona O'Neill, the 16-year-old debutante with whom he is infatuated. The relationship ends when he is drafted and his "timid tigress" heads to California, where she will marry Charles Chaplin. (The war dashed Salinger's own dreams of acting in Hollywood.) In France, Salinger proves himself in battle and in negotiations with the enemy, working when he can on his "Holden Caulfield novel." He has punishing sex with Sylvia Welter, a German ophthalmologist doubling as a spy. To his Jewish family's chagrin, he brings her back to the U.S. as his wife along with their "Nazi dog." Increasingly, Salinger finds himself caught between reality and grim fantasy, haunted by traumatic war memories—a soldier with missing eye sockets whose "blackened teeth revealed a jarring smile, like an angel soaring into the unknown"; the harsh whistle of "Screaming Meemies," which "bit into your bones." With a nod to Catch-22, Charyn captures to darkly comedic effect the inhumanity of war and the altered state his hero lives in. Known to readers for his prickly nature, Salinger emerges as a likable eccentric with deep reserves of empathy, especially for young people. Building on the established facts of Salinger's life, this supremely engaging novel leaves us with a new, sometimes heart-rending understanding of the author and the times in which he came of age.

A smoothly told, unexpectedly affecting foray into a lesser-known chapter of the literary giant's life.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-942658-74-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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