Wednesday, July 26, 2017

You Belong To Me By Colin Harrison is very good,review by Megan Abbott

By Colin Harrison
324 pp. Sarah Crichton Books/ Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $27.
Late into Colin Harrison’s noirish new novel, “You Belong to Me,” Paul Reeves, a prosperous 50-year-old immigration lawyer, sits in the storied Grand Central Oyster Bar, missing his father. “This doesn’t look like a church,” he recalls his father telling him when Paul was a boy. “But it is.” Decades later he surveys the familiar dark wood, the “ancient” waiters, the swordfish he and his father had seen still mounted over the bar. “You had to have places in the city like that,” he decides, “or you didn’t know who you were anymore.”
Is Paul longing for a simpler, more communal era when, as his father says, people could go to a bar and “feel like they are part of things”? Or is this the bleary nostalgia of certain white-men-of-comfort in a city always in flux? Both, it seems. Longing for a lost authenticity mingles with a deeper, less articulated fear of displacement and obsolescence. We hear echoes here of another noir hero, Raymond Chandler’s detective Philip Marlowe, who is forever mourning a bygone Los Angeles — once “a big dry sunny place … good-hearted and peaceful,” as Chandler put it, but now given over to harsh neon, “fast-dollar boys” and a smug suburbia. Marlowe belongs nowhere.
Noir has always had a complicated relationship with nostalgia, alternately rejecting the past as a psychological prison and romanticizing it as the lost Eden that predated our fallen present. At its heart, however, the hard, hungry gaze of noir has always been fixed instead on the future. It’s a genre filled with the kind of characters the novelist Laura Lippman calls “dreamers who become schemers.” The dedicated employee who decides to steal from the boss, the drifter who wants the rich man’s wife, the low-rent crooks who try to pull off the big con.
Harrison loves his schemers, especially the high-stakes New York City variety, and his exuberance for plundering financiers, money-grubbing heirs and double-dealing musclemen for hire is the fuel that propels “You Belong to Me.” At the center is Paul, whose comfortable lifestyle comes from his boutique law practice but whose passion lies in obsessive rare map collecting. In the novel’s opening scene, Paul attends a map auction with his neighbor Jennifer, the fetching young wife of Ahmed Mehraz, a fast-rising lawyer-financier from a wealthy West Coast Iranian-American family. Mid-auction marks the sudden, dramatic appearance of William Wilkerson, a recently discharged Army Ranger and former lover from Jennifer’s hardscrabble past.


It’s a classic noir triangle, but it widens quickly to introduce a roundelay of characters with volatile tempers and conflicting agendas, including Paul’s sometime girlfriend Rachel, Ahmed’s worldly uncle Hassan, Wilkerson’s God-fearing Texan father, sundry contract killers and map dealers — even a former Mexican cartel assassin hiding from El Chapo. The common denominator among them seems to be a voracious hunger: for money, power, revenge, a baby, a bargaining chip, a return to a more glorious past — or, in Paul’s case, for a very old map. “Wish and dream,” Paul philosophizes at one point, standing among his maps. “Trouble and desire.”
The story that follows is deliciously twisty and, intermittently, startlingly violent. With such a wide cast, its many characters risk feeling like types, or even stereotypes, but Harrison attempts to give most of them a moment in the sun: an explanatory back story, a convincing moral justification, even a Rosebud moment. “Everyone had a private journey,” Paul observes, “and no one was ever completely known by anyone.” Some journeys, however, are more compelling than others; “You Belong to Me” is weakest when ventriloquizing its primary female characters, with Rachel and Jennifer never fully coming to life — and seldom driving any of the real action.
But Harrison’s interests are never entirely with the novel’s younger characters anyway. Instead, the emotional and moral heft of the story resides with its older men: Uncle Hassan, whose role in Iran’s tumultuous history has imbued him with a moral gravitas; Mr. Wilkerson, the Army Ranger’s father, who fairly glows with “Friday Night Lights”-style grace; and, ultimately, Paul himself. “No one,” Hassan ruminates at one point in the action, “is interested in the opinions of an old man … sitting next to a pool in California.” He adds, “History moved on, left you at the station holding a heavy suitcase and a worthless ticket.”
But within the moral universe of “You Belong to Me,” these three men of middle age — a father, a father figure and (if Paul’s girlfriend has her way) a father-to-be — exert a powerful force. “When you never know your father,” Jennifer speculates as her life unravels, “it causes all kinds of trouble.” It’s a view Paul, and Harrison’s narrative, support. The novel’s older men, these canny patriarchs, seem to understand everything the younger characters do not. If the hot passions of youth — desire, jealousy, foolish pride — fail to cool into something softer, more measured, then the catastrophe looms. It is up to these wise men to set things right, and Paul in particular succeeds in engineering, in the novel’s last pages, a dizzying series of machinations to institute an order on the disorder he sees, moving characters around likes pawns on a chess board. Or like push pins on a map.
Maps, as Paul tells us, seek to fix in place what can never be fixed. They attempt to stop time and assert a false permanence. And what rescues the ending of “You Belong to Me” from what might feel like too tidy a conclusion is the messiness that is Paul, the dreamer-schemer.
Early in the novel, Paul admits to dreaming of owning every map ever made of New York City. To do so, he feels, would give him a godlike power — a power even to destroy, if he so chooses. “For the collector collects to have. To own, to worship, to possess — to say this is mine and no one else’s.” This is the essence of noir, this unstoppable urge, this voracity so intense it starts to feel perverse even to the subject.
It is irresistible to note a very similar passage in Harrison’s recent account of his own obsessive map collecting in “Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York.” With exquisite unrepentance, he notes that his Brooklyn brownstone is covered in thousands of maps and he, like Paul, longs to own every one of New York City. “I crave them, I fever for them. I feel that a map I do not have but want is yet rightfully mine; I must touch them and smell them and possess them, must run my finger along their stiff or soft or irregular damaged edges.”
This is the obsession that we see in Paul and that thrums deliriously through the novel. He wants them all. He can’t stop, and doesn’t want to. It’s consuming. The hard, hot beat of noir goes on.
Continue reading the main story

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Man Who Designed the Future: Norman Bel Geddes and the Invention of Twentieth-Century America by B. Alexandra Szerlip,is great

The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes,is very good,review by By John Greenya - The Washington Times

Had I known that Jojo Moyes had twice won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award, “The Girl You Left Behind” would quickly have become the book I left behind — which would have been a big mistake. What the author has written is not a love story within a historical setting, but an excellent historical novel that is also a moving love story. Excuse me, make that love stories. The book opens in 1916, the midpoint of World War I. The small French town of Peronne — which actually exists, then and now — is occupied by the Germans, whose soldiers have taken everything worth taking, all the valuables and, of course, all the decent food. Even though the townspeople are starving, the Germans want more from them.
The commandant informs Sophie Lefevre that every Monday night she must feed his soldiers in her family’s small restaurant, Le Coq Rouge. Sophie is in no position to object or to resist — her beloved husband Edouard, a gifted painter, is, like all the adult males of Peronne, in the French army, fighting the Germans in some unknown part of the country, though odds are he is a prisoner of war. The commandant tells Sophiethat he will provide the food, and she and her sister will cook and serve it (and the wine) with appropriate hospitality.
It’s the last requirement that earns Sophie the ill will of her own townspeople. She has already proven her mettle by standing up to and staring down the Germans in a magnificent opening scene, which I will not reveal here. Yet some of her neighbors expect ongoing heroism.
That theme, once established, remains a leitmotif throughout the World War I sections of the novel, as does the existence of a beautiful painting of Sophie done by Edouard when they were falling in love. The commandant, no barbarian (at least not culturally) covets the painting, and, eventually, Sophie, in equal measure. However, just when Sophie is taken by the Germans and whisked away in the back of a truck to an unknown fate, and the plot has thickened almost to the point of congealing, the author whisks us away (reluctantly, in the case of this reader, and deposits us in London in 2006).
The painting of the book’s title now hangs in the bedroom of Liv Halston, a 33-year-old Londoner who, like Sophie before her, has just lost her husband. The difference is that when we left Sophie, her Edouard was, presumably, still alive, whereas David Halston, Liv’s husband, a brilliant young architect with an even more brilliant future, has died, very undramatically, in bed at home at age 36.
As Liv tells someone, late in the book, “‘Can you imagine you slept through the person you love most dying next to you? Knowing that there might have been something you could have done to help him? To save him?’”
The torch Liv carries for her husband, who had bought “The Girl You Left Behind” for her on their honeymoon, burns very brightly for very long, and then, when it appears she is about to slip through the safety net of her meager social life, she meets another man and falls for him.
Paul is a professional art-theft investigator, and the company he co-owns specializes in restoring European art stolen by the Germans (in both world wars) to the heirs of their rightful owners. In an intimate scene (that strained my credulity more than a bit) he sees “The Girl” on Liv’s bedroom wall and recognizes it as a painting his firm has been hired to find. From that point on, the novel speeds to its resolution, but not before going back in time to pick up, and finish, the Sophie-Edouard story, and then returns to Liv-Paul in modern-day London. It is to author Jojo Moyes’ great credit that she accomplishes this difficult task not just with aplomb, but with a compassionate conclusion that is entirely plausible.
This is a novel with many tangents, little streams flowing off the main body of water in the way of so many tributaries. It’s a bit like reading a family tree and learning how every one of the main family members fared in life. The secondary characters are all believable and marvelously well-drawn. Here I think immediately of the commandant, but also of Sophie’s siblings, her heroic sister, her doubting Thomas of a younger brother and one fellow resident of Peronne in particular.
In the 21st-century London sections, there’s Mo, a younger hippie-type who befriends Liv, and vice versa, as well as Paul’s partner, a woman with a heart of gold bullion — all in all a superb cast and an excellent story. There’s even a fast-moving court scene sequence, which, being set in Great Britain with wigs and all, provides an interesting difference for readers more familiar with American legal thrillers.
By the end, “The Girl You Left Behind” had become not just a picture-perfect historical novel, but also a true mystery-thriller. And I no longer cared how many romance novels Ms. Moyes had written.

John Greenya is a Washington-area writer.

Friday, July 7, 2017

MORE:The Women Who Flew for Hitler: The True Story of Hitler’s Valkyries Clare Mulley

It is conventional wisdom in the publishing industry that, despite the old adage, readers do indeed judge books by their covers. So, it seems, do passengers on the No. 29 bus. For a middle-aged man reading Clare Mulley’s The Women Who Flew for Hitler, some of the looks I got made me so uncomfortable that I took to hiding the cover behind a newspaper.
So let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: this is not a niche book for Third Reich enthusiasts, nor a seedy excuse to fantasise about women in Nazi uniforms. Do not be put off by the awful title: it is in fact a serious double biography of two of the most remarkable women in the history of aviation.
The first of Mulley’s subjects, and the more famous of the two, is Hanna Reitsch. Reitsch was the darling of the prewar German press and one of the most gifted fliers of her generation. At the age of 21, this extraordinary woman flew a glider through storm clouds to set a new world altitude record for unpowered flight. In 1937 she became the first woman ever to fly a helicopter, and during the second world war she flew every plane going, including manned versions of the V-1 flying bomb.
Her physical courage seemed to know no bounds. In 1942, she crashed in a jet plane prototype she was testing; but despite breaking her back in several places, and having her nose torn from her face, she was back flying again within a year. She was the first German woman to be made a Flight Captain, the first to receive the Military Flying Medal, and the first to receive the Iron Cross, First Class. ‘She was the one and only Hanna Reitsch,’ as one of her male colleagues put it, ‘a symbol of German womanhood and the idol of German aviation.’
The second woman in Mulley’s book, though less well known, is perhaps even more impressive. Melitta Schiller was a military test pilot whose determination to stress her planes to their very limits seemed almost suicidal. According to one contemporary, taking a plane into even a moderate nosedive was ‘something many male pilots already regarded as an act of heroism’. Melitta insisted on flying her planes almost vertically towards the ground, only pulling out at the very last moment. On one such dive the canopy of her plane blew off, leaving her exposed to the elements as she tried to bring her plane back under control. On another occasion her windscreen exploded. She was forced to crash-land several times, and once had to bail out when her plane caught fire. Yet she remained undeterred: during the course of her career she completed more than 2,000 nosedives in the name of research.
The half-Jewish Melitta Schiller, who supported the plot to kill Hitler.
The half-Jewish Melitta Schiller, who supported the plot to kill Hitler.
However, what made Melitta Schiller so exceptional was that the equipment she was testing during these dives was often also designed by her. The research of this talented aeronautical engineer gave rise to scores of innovations, especially in night-fighter technology. Thus, not only did she become the second woman to be awarded the Iron Cross, First Class, but towards the end of the war she was also appointed head of her own research station. She would spend her mornings performing death-defying manoeuvres in the air and her afternoons at the drawing board, perfecting her designs.
As a story of two women bursting through the very low glass ceilings of their time and rising to the pinnacle of their profession, Mulley’s book is a satisfying, rollicking read. But there is a great deal more nuance here than first meets the eye. Neither woman regarded herself as a feminist — indeed, Melitta openly repudiated the very idea. Both worked in the service of a vile regime, and were well aware of the crimes it was committing. One wants to celebrate their achievements, but Mulley deliberately makes us uncomfortable about doing so.
Furthermore, she reveals that despite some superficial similarities, these were two very different women. Hanna was brash, impatient for change, and became a fanatical Nazi. She had private dinners with Göring, Himmler and Hitler, and even spent time with Hitler in his bunker during the final days of the Nazi Reich. She survived the war but kept the taint of her Nazi past until her death in 1979.
Melitta, by contrast, lived by the traditional values of the old German Junker class. She was also half-Jewish, and was only spared deportation to the camps because her pioneering work was worth too much to the regime. Before the war she married into the family of Claus von Stauffenberg, and wholeheartedly supported his plot to kill Hitler in 1944. She died in a doomed attempt to find her husband at the very end of the war when her plane was shot down by the Allies. Each woman in her way was therefore emblematic of a different facet of German society during the most turbulent years of the 20th century.
Mulley’s biography is well researched, beautifully written, and gives a perspective on the war that even seasoned students will find refreshing. So do not be put off by the title: this is one book that should not be judged by its cover.

Women Who Flew for Hitler : A True Story of Soaring Ambition and Searing Rivalry by Clare Mulley,on reserve at NYPL

LJ Reviews 2017 June #1
These days, it can be difficult to remember a time when flight was glamorous. In the 1920s and 1930s, airplanes were for the adventurous. The top perfume for women, En Avion, was inspired by figures such as Amelia Earhart and Hélène Boucher; women ambitious enough to believe in their wildest dreams. In Germany, two of the top female aviators, Melitta von Stauffenberg (1903â€"45) and Hanna Reitsch (1912â€"79), were daring test pilots who were awarded the Iron Cross for their service to the Third Reich. While they shared a love of flight and country, their political views and personal choices were entirely different. Melitta supported an attack on Adolf Hitler's life, while Hanna died a Nazi apologist. Historian and biographer Mulley (The Woman Who Saved the Children) sheds light on the story of these two women, contrasting their personalities while also showing the impact that Hitler's rise to power had on their lives. VERDICT This compelling work has the drama and suspense of the best movie scripts. It is the perfect choice for lovers of narrative non-fiction, especially those interested in strong females.â€"Beth Dalton, Littleton, CO
Copyright 2017 Library Journal.