Tuesday, June 23, 2015
A Warrior’s Words
I am a soldier’s daughter. My father served in three wars, two of them popular, one of them not. The only stories he ever told about those times in his life were carefully edited, G-rated anecdotes like one about running over a python when he was in Burma building Bailey-Bailey bridges.
He bore his burden alone because that’s what men of his generation did. He died with his stories untold. And maybe that’s one reason why he died so young.
I wish my father—who loved to read—could have read this collection of essays and fiction.
Weston Ochse is a warrior. He is a humanist. And he is a damn fine writer.
I’ve read some fantastic collections of war stories in the past and this one is now in my top five, along with Michael Herr’s DISPATCHES and Anthony Swofford’s JARHEAD.
Every single story in this collection has been curated with care and all of them will go through you like the ball bearings spit out by a Claymore mine when someone not paying attention steps on it.
“Why is it so hard to be a man?” the protagonist of “Family Man” asks and then he offers up a sacrifice to his family that is simply…heart-stopping. “Family Man” is one of those stories, like “Plastic Soldiers” by WD County, that can never be unread.
The essays are just as strong as the fiction, with “Every War Has a Signature Sound” being one of my favorites. Ochse ends the collection with a piece called “Finishing School” that is inspirational and confessional and altogether insightful and a story about warring with your self when it just seems so much easier to quit.
But warriors don’t quit.
Monday, June 22, 2015
This book begins with a bang, literally as Eve Moran unloads her gun into a man whose name is either Joey or Jimmy or Jerry--she can't quite remember. And if she did remember, she wouldn't care. Because Eve only cares about herself.
If you know Patricia Abbott’s short stories, you’ve been waiting a long time for her debut as a novelist. If you’re new to her work, you’re in for a treat. This mother/daughter tale is filled with sharp observation and lethal detail that underlines the family dysfunction (with a capital D) with economy and grace. One paragraph, early on, tells us everything we need to know about narcissistic Eve Moran and how little she cares for anyone else in her life, including her daughter:
She invited him up to her apartment where she served him stuffed figs, cocktail nuts, dates, and several dry martinis before taking him to bed. She’d given up cooking for men after a nasty episode a few years earlier, but kept prepared foods such as these on hand for potential guests— items looking attractive in a cut-glass bowl. We often made a Sunday dinner of the leftovers if they didn’t disappear on Saturday night.
We see all too clearly the damage Mona is wreaking in her daughter’s life, even though Christine is too young to understand just how masterfully and completely she is being manipulated. But even though she’s blind to how her mother operates, Christine sees how the world works, and her point of view is clear-eyed and unsentimental, rather like Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’ novel TRUE GRIT (or Addie Pray in David Brown’s ADDIE PRAY, aka PAPER MOON). And though there’s something her father said to her mother in the heat of the divorce proceedings, something Christine can’t quite wrap her head around, the meaning is clear to us and explains so so much about Eve and why her 12-year-old daughter believes that “Saving Mother” is her special skill-set.
This is a story about lies and deceptions and what happens when all those lies come home to roost. Eve is a fantastic character, a moral chameleon whose capacity for self-delusion is even bigger than her thirst for instant gratification. CONCRETE ANGEL is a hard-boiled delight for people who like character-driven stories.
Friday, June 19, 2015
Readers soon realize that the title of this thriller has a double meaning. Rick Hoffman has come back to the house he grew up in, a money pit of a 1903 Queen Anne house that has been on the market for months with only one offer, so lowball that the realtor didn’t even acknowledge it.
Rick, a former investigative reporter who’s just lost his job as editor of a slick metropolitan magazine called BACK BAY, is in need of some fixing up himself. Unemployed, uncoupled (his ex-fiancée has moved on) and basically unmoored, Rick latches on to the idea of fixing the house up with the help of his next-door neighbor and then selling it for seven figures.
And then he finds the money in the wall.
What happens next sends Rick on a journey he never expected and shows him a side of his law-abiding lawyer father he never suspected existed. Leonard (Lenny) Hoffman looms large in the narrative even though as the story opens, he’s lying in a long-term care nursing home, a stroke patient unable to speak. He is able to communicate though, and his message to Rick is clear. Let sleeping Benjamins lie. But Rick used to be a reporter and old habits die hard.
This book is written in a cinematic way that keeps the action moving at a brisk clip. The plot keeps opening out and getting more and more sinister with each revelation that Rick uncovers. And along the way there are old girlfriends, former neighbors, and a whole lot of people who have been keeping a couple of really dirty secrets.
I can’t say it wasn’t a little formulaic and there were elements that were kind of predictable, but honestly—if you read a lot of thrillers, it’s harder and harder for a writer to surprise you. It’s enough that this book entertains.