Inexplicably my blog decided this is the June 1 posting and will not allow me to change the date on the posting.
Quote for the day: "Professional seamen treated (the upper Great Lakes) with the respect a lion tamer pays an excitable cat." William Ratigan. Straits of Mackinac. 1957.
I didn't give this book much of a chance for a positive review because I knew it fell within the genre of Christian fiction and the publisher states in part its mission is to, "serve the diverse interests of evangelical readers." To put this as politely as possible, I don't turn to fiction for religious renewal, guidance, or inspiration. But the novel is set in Michigan and therefore deserved consideration. I cracked the cover and the author had me from the fourth page with a very funny observation on Michigan weather and the Almighty's self-congratulation on his creation. By page fifty I had become so totally involved with the book's characters and the dynamics of the Jacobson family and their story I sometimes lost the sense of reading a book. Now that is real magic and the mark of a great storyteller.
The novel is set in 1967-68 and chronicles the trials, tribulations, hope, and despair faced by the Jacobson's, a devoutly religious family of Dutch descent living in western Michigan. The story is told by the family's oldest daughter, Annie, who just graduated high school and is stuck in a dead-end job in a local diner and can't afford college. She has two brothers, Joel, the youngest, hardly knows his father because the man walked out on the family twelve years ago. Her older brother, Mike, enlists in the army and is sent to Vietnam as a medic. Frank, the father, is a Korean War Vet who apparently suffers from undiagnosed PTSD. He surprises everyone by suddenly and periodically returning home for short visits. Frank has to face the wrath of a wife left to support and raise a family and a young son who longs for a father. The older children don't know what to make of their dad's reappearance and are further bewildered when their mother isn't sure she wants a divorce. The tension can be palatable as the family deals with a father who may want back in the lives, Mike's constant brushes with death, and a grandfather in the grip of Alzheimer's who's reached the stage where he can't be taken care of at home.
The author has drawn a believable and moving portrait of an ordinary family close to being overwhelmed by large and small events, family tragedies, and the consequences of life-changing decisions. Yes, they often pray for guidance but if there are few clear answers or no apparent divine revelations the family must find the strength to face life's vicissitudes and deal with what the future holds. The author writes with honesty, realism, and compassion about a family that struggles to meet life's daunting hardships with hope, perseverance, and faith in family.
All Manner of Things by Susie Finkbeiner. Revell, 2019, $15.99.
What really caught my attention was the author's one- to two-page word pictures or ruminations on remembered moments from youth. The short pieces range from a freeze-frame still of a 1960s Warren neighborhood to the sounds heard on 8 Mile Road. They read like literary jazz riffs by Coleman Hawkins or Miles Davis. Here a short excerpt from the latter piece. "Lips kiss cigarettes outside AA meetings at old Sr. Mike's. Chopper bray. House-door: slam. Car-door: slam, Bar-door: slam. Alarm. Accident. Alarm. Gunshot. Don't pretend or imagine a backfire. Not here. Not now. Siren. Siren call. Folded in night's dark envelope. Flattened by fear/suspicion." I read and reread these compressed literary gems and found I liked to read them while listening to jazz.
Memorable, resonant, funny, provocative, reflective, and filled with literary pyrotechnics. What more could you ask for? More.
The Prep Walk by Jim Ray Daniels. Michigan State University Press, 2019, $24.95 pb.
The pages of the book are splashed with maps and historical photographs. In addition to the historical sites, the author sprinkles the book with lists of Detroit firsts, major industries in Detroit other than automobiles, and odd facts such as Detroiters eat several more pounds of potato chips per capita annually than any other city in the nation. The book is authoritative and fairly exhaustive when it comes to the coverage of Detroit's obvious historical treasures and institutions. Though I would have liked to have seen hours of operation and entrance fees, if any, for each site.
The only serious fault I find with the book is some glaringly obvious omissions. Neither Hudson's Department Store nor Stroh's Brewery makes it into the book and except for Baker's Keyboard Lounge, historic bars and eateries are completely omitted. History lovers would take delight in being introduced to Abick's Bar. It is the longest family operated bar in Detroit and was founded in 1907. Recent remodeling uncovered prohibition-era bottles and two huge whiskey barrels that predate 1920. And then there's Tommy's Detroit Bar and Grill that has been serving thirsty Detroiters since the 1840s. Wayne State University Archaeology department worked a summer carefully excavating the bar's basement and discovered an underground tunnel used to smuggle liquor from the Detroit River during Prohibition and it is believed the bar was used as a waystation on the Underground Railroad. During the 1920s it was a reputed hangout of the notorious Purple Gang.
That said the book serves as a very good introduction to and a self-guided tour of nearly all of Detroit's most significant historical sites in the Auto City's greater downtown area.
A History Lover's Guide to Detroit by Karin Risko. History Press, 2018, $21.99.
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