Of all the weird twists in the 40-year drama of building the Washington Monument, perhaps the oddest was in 1855, when a band of rebels staged a coup and seized the project, largely because the board overseeing the construction had accepted a commemorative stone from Pope Pius IX. The Know-Nothing Party faction didn’t give back the monument until 1858.
In John Irving’s 14th novel, aging Mexican-American novelist Juan Diego Guerrero travels from his home in Iowa to the Philippines. He plans to fulfill a decades-old promise he made to a Vietnam draft dodger to honor a father killed during World War II, and takes a former writing student as his tour guide. En route to Manila, he is overtaken and seduced by a ghostly mother-daughter duo: fans of Juan Diego’s novels, who will reappear in unexpected, -sexually-charged moments throughout his journey. Going on and off his blood pressure medications, he travels in an almost hallucinatory state. He dreams.
Forget Ben, Jennifer and the nanny. Don’t give a second thought to Gwen and Gavin. Contemporary Splitsville sagas are dullsville compared to the craziness of Golden Age Hollywood stars Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner. Their four decades-plus romance, detailed in John Brady’s juicy and judiciously reported Frank & Ava: In Love and War, was the stuff of both dreams and nightmares and makes for a doozy of a read.
John Coy’s many books about sports are especially popular with young readers, and here he brings his knowledge of the history of basketball to tell a timely and inspiring story about John McLendon (1915-1999), the first black coach in the American Basketball Association.
Now that anyone with a Facebook page and an opinion can be a political pundit, it’s hard to believe there was a time—and not that long ago—when a newspaper columnist could wield real political power. Mary McGrory did for nearly half a century.
It’s sometimes amazing to realize how an obsession for sports can take over a life. In John L. Parker Jr.’s amiable new work, a prequel to his 1978 bestseller Once a Runner, Quenton Cassidy, teenage native of Citrus City, Florida, is so wrapped up in his athletic pursuits that the great upheavals of his era—the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of JFK, civil rights and the arrival of the Beatles for goodness’ sake!—stick in his mind the way anything sticks to Teflon.
There was no major emergency that motivated John Marshall to uproot his family for six months of global volunteer work. It was lots of little things: declining intimacy with his wife of 20 years; the desire for quality time with their teenagers; and a general sense of boredom at work. Their travels do change their lives, in ways both expected and highly surprising.
Who is Sean Phillips? And how did he end up like this? That’s the central conceit of John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, a compact but wide-ranging novel that follows -Sean’s development from unpopular teenager to reclusive adult.
The end of the world might seem like an odd time to care about music and art; why worry about Shakespeare when civilization has collapsed? But in Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, it seems perfectly plausible that a Traveling Symphony would cross the wasteland that exists 20 years after most of the world’s population has died from a flu epidemic.
An intriguing hybrid of Asimovian I, Robot-flavored sci-fi, the quasi-contemporary speculative fiction of William Gibson and the enjoyable detective/crime procedural work of . . . well, countless writers, John Scalzi’s latest novel, Lock In, interweaves the threads of a number of familiar genre conventions to impressive effect.