Deacon King Kong tells the stories of a group of residents of a New York housing project, many of them members of a not-so-successful evangelical church. The action takes place in the late 1960s right as heroin is taking over from more mundane trafficking, and the story is as much a historical lesson as a set of personal stories. There are lots of characters, with colorful nicknames and complex back stories, many reaching back to the South before they migrated to New York.
I found the denouement a little too precious but enjoyed the characters very much.
Do we need another novel about rich New Yorkers and their troubled children? Probably not, but Fleishman Is In Trouble is awfully entertaining, as we follow Dr. Fleishman’s struggling with his children following his soon-to-be ex-wife’s sudden disappearance while caring for high-profile patients. And we learn that he was, in fact, the almost house husband to his financially successful talent agent wife, so their marriage was a little more complicated than we thought. And, in fact, she has her own tale to tell. So don’t dismiss the story too soon or too easily as a standard beach read.
Moving Kings stars the beleaguered owner of a moving company that handles eviction in addition to regular moves, and two Israeli veterans, working illegally for him as a family favor. I very much enjoyed the first part of the book, that describes the complicated relationship of the owner and his faithful assistant, the messy reality of running a small, scrappy company, and also the disorientation of the first veteran who tries to fit into a “normal” civilian life.
The second half is a heavier slog, comparing the evictions to the heavy-handed military presence in the Gaza strip. It’s not entirely convincing.
The woman at the center of Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster must have been a formidable lady (and the author, her grandson, confesses to having be a little afraid of her growing up!). At a time when women and African Americans had very few professional opportunities, she went to college, went to law school, prosecuted the mob in New York City, and was active in many women and African American organizations. And apparently threw great parties to boot!
Alas, her contributions to the New York justice system did not allow her to rise to higher offices, perhaps because of her brother’s communist affiliations. And she seems to have pretty much abandoned her son to be raised by others (not that her husband did much to raise him either!) It’s an exceptional life, but told in what, to me, was excruciating detail.
Part history, part society pages, The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy describes dozens of young American women whose family’s lack of pedigree marooned them from fashionable society in New York but whose wealth was eminently attractive to impoverished British aristocrats. After marrying, their titles opened them, and their parents, a place in the surprisingly closed New York high society, which their mothers knew very well, and had worked to achieve, sometimes at the expense of the daughters.
It was not all fun and games. They often discovered that the wonderful castles of their new husbands were unheated hovels when it came to modern conveniences, and staffed by servants that nursed contempt for their naivete, while their new husbands were very free with their marital vows.
The book sometimes veers into a gossip column (and after a few chapters some of the women start to blend together) but it draws an interesting portrait of two elites in need of each other.
White River Burning stars a retired NY detective who is asked to investigate a fatal shooting of an African American man by a white police officer, and who stumbles on a very complicated case of police corruption. The story is twisted enough to keep the reader’s interest, but what I liked best was the nuanced descriptions of very complicated characters as well as the mix of mundane tasks and police investigation.
There are glimpses of deep, interesting insight in My Year of Rest and Relaxation, when the heroine describes the death of her parents, her grief, and the relief she gets from her complete withdrawal from the world. But it only lasts for a few pages, deep into the story, and the rest I found utterly insipid. Her long list of medications prescribed by her unethical psychiatrist, her many trips to the local bodega to buy crappy foods, her pointless job and cushy, inheritance-paid apartment — not to mention her vapid so-called friend, who, I must say, seems much more solid and even sensible than she does. Bottom line: I was very bored.
Alternate Side is not as silly as The Awkward Age because it’s filled with small asides of well observed details. For instance, the heroine has a new (male) temp who gives her a perfect heads-up on a panicked call from her daughter, which causes her to ask whether he has sisters. Yes, we would ask that same question! But the petty dramas of a privileged New York cul-de-sac seemed, to me at least, to be petty and predictable.
Two half-brothers separated by age, wealth, and marital status come to grip with their father’s death in City of Strangers. Their dad was a Nazi sympathizer so the mourning is complicated, to say the least. And the younger brother gets attacked by a mysterious mugger seeking revenge (that part does not always make sense, I must admit). The book is essentially a rumination on what it means to be successful, and how we can be very alone in a vast city, with wonderful asides on what it means to be a brother.
The Friend is a clever novel within a novel that apparently focuses (very movingly) on loss, grief, and love between humans and dogs, but it’s also the story of a great friendship and a woman who might lose her mind to an obsession. Excellent!