Short Takes

Short Takes: Book reviews, in brief

July 27, 2013 

Nonfiction

This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital

Mark Leibovich, Blue Rider Press, 386 pages.

Political scientist Louis Brownlow once famously lauded Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advisers’ “passion for anonymity.” Gone are the days.

Today’s Washington operatives more closely resemble Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard” – characters consumed by their own stardom. These are the personalities Mark Leibovich describes in “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America’s Gilded Capital.”

The figures Leibovich paints – some well known, others utterly obscure – are grotesque, profoundly needy people whose egos demand constant reinforcement.

A staff writer for the New York Times Magazine and formerly a reporter at the Washington Post, Leibovich spent years honing his skill at writing incisive profiles. That work has given him access to the book’s subjects – a collection of lobbyists, high-profile journalists and the sort of former senior government officials who seem to thrive for years providing vague “consulting” services.

Los Angeles Times

Fiction

Return to Oakpine

Ron Carlson, Viking, 272 pages.

In small-town America, high school is king. Ron Carlson’s sixth novel, “Return to Oakpine,” follows a Wyoming town’s aging residents bent on reliving the glory days of senior year and the summer of ’69, of first kisses, flat beer and amateur rock ’n’ roll.

Like “The Signal,” his previous book, “Return to Oakpine” is concerned with the culture and landscape of the American West. With Carlson’s typical grace and unadorned prose, his latest novel deals in the prodigal sons and promising footballers of Oakpine, a small town that seems to hold optimism only for its youth.

Carlson knits these multiple voices and perspectives together to capture the magnetic, sometimes damaging pull of hometowns and the memories of invincible youth that can never be restored. It’s a humane portrait of the lives we lead and leave behind, peeling back nostalgia’s gold veneer with grace, empathy and a pragmatic sense of optimism.

Kansas City Star

Fiction

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

Anton Disclafani, Riverhead Books, 400 pages.

At the start of “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls,” Thea Atwell is the kind of sheltered, self-involved 15-year-old who gets teased by her peers for being “too solemn” – but that’s the least of her worries.

Set in the summer of 1930, Thea has been expelled from her wealthy Florida family and escorted to a secluded North Carolina boarding school where heiresses learn to ride horses. Anton Disclafani’s ambitious debut novel takes its time in exposing Thea’s transgressions involving her twin brother and cousin, but it’s clear after a few chapters that the heroine is no naive babe in the woods.

Like our heroine, the reader eventually exits “The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls” haunted by the setting’s charms and mesmerizing flavors. But unlike Thea, we’re not entirely eager to return.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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