by Julie HaleSeptember, 2008
Bridge of Sighs
Bridge of Sighs
In top form, Russo returns with his sixth novel, another poignant and illuminating chronicle of small-town culture. Focusing on a group of close friends from Thomaston, New York, the novel spans five decades and is narrated by each of the main characters. Louis Charles Lynch, a Thomaston resident all his life, has been married to Sarah for 40 years, and together, they're reaping the benefits of his family's considerable fortune, which was acquired through a chain of convenience stores. Hoping to travel to Venice for a vacation, Lynch tries unsuccessfully to contact his old friend (and Sarah's former flame) Bobby Marconi, a famous painter who lives in Italy. Marconi is leading the quintessential painter's life overseas - pursuing women, brawling with men and suffering for his art, all while teetering on the brink of 60. Russo skillfully develops the separate yet intertwined stories of these characters, allowing their recollections of life in Thomaston to overlap and enhance each other. The narrative is peppered with everyday dramas - family conflicts, financial struggles - all richly developed and convincingly portrayed. A melancholy reminder that small towns may one day be obsolete, the story of Lynch and his cohorts can be read as Russo's homage to a way of life that's quickly passing. Fans will be more than satisfied with his latest take on middle-class America.
A reading group guide is available in print and online at readinggroupcenter.com.
Look Me in the Eye
This startling memoir from first - time author Robison was a national bestseller in hardcover. Afflicted with the type of autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger's syndrome, Robison offers a gripping account of what it's like to be an outsider. As a kid, he struggles to make friends and lead a "normal" life, but hints of his condition surface early. An odd inability to make eye contact with others, a tendency to blurt out inappropriate statements and an uncanny facility for math and science point to a larger problem. Robison, however, doesn't discover the nature of his condition until he turns 40 and receives a diagnosis. The news, of course, changes his perspective on both the present and the past. Robison, who is the older brother of author Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors), shares his sibling's gift for storytelling, and the narrative is filled with incidents from their famously troubled childhood, including the author's habit of digging deep holes and putting Burroughs in them. Filled with humor and spirit, this memoir isn't a victim's tale, but the story of a man who has come to grips with his personal history and found a comfortable place in life. (As it turns out, Robison eventually put his science skills to use by creating trick guitars - the exploding kind - for KISS.) This well-crafted, no-frills account will leave readers wanting more from the author.
A reading group guide is included in the book.
Tree of Smoke
Shifting locales and points of view to provide a kaleidoscopic look at the Vietnam War, this remarkable, multilayered narrative - Johnson's eighth work of fiction - features a varied cast of characters, all with different perspectives on the conflict and different motives for their involvement. At the center of the novel is CIA officer Skip Sands, whose uncle, Col. Francis Xavier Sands, is one of the organization's most feared and revered operatives. The colonel has enlisted his young nephew in a mission called Tree of Smoke, which involves a double agent working against the Viet Cong. Skip arrives in Vietnam in 1967, only to watch and wait, following the orders of his powerful uncle without being fully informed about his role in the mission or understanding its larger parameters. He has a fleeting affair with a young Canadian nurse named Kathy, who offers compassion and sympathy in a world where those sentiments are scarce. Other figures round out the book: looking for an escape from rural Arizona, brothers Bill and James Houston sign on to the war, only to encounter fresh fears and a new kind of hopelessness. Obsessed CIA op Sgt. Jimmy Storm is determined to find out the truth about the colonel's big mission - no matter what the cost. Sprawling and complex, yet perfectly controlled, this unforgettable novel won the 2007 National Book Award for fiction, and it's easy to see why.