Tag Archives: generational change

The shadow of 9/11 looms over the lives of an otherwise privileged generation.

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck: A Novel, by Ann Beattie. Viking. 288 pages. Hardcover $25.00

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck, Ann Beattie’s 21st book, is extremely smart: edgy, infectious, witty, and yet a bit brooding. Some readers will wonder if it is too smart; if, in style and tone, intelligence has conquered feeling in paralyzing ways. It certainly seems to have done so in several of the major characters. They are oddly desperate and oddly blocked. 

We meet Ben and his classmates during their senior year at Bailey Academy, a co-ed New Hampshire boarding school designed to discover and promote the ambitions of a privileged generation — and/or its parents.

Beattie’s handling of how these classmates interact, especially how they speak to one another, is remarkable. So is the anonymous narrating voice, who seems, at times, like an invisible overseer of the teenagers’ potentialities and handicaps — like someone who may have graduated from Bailey a decade or so back and can guess what they’re going through.

Positioned somewhere in between this voice and those of the students is Pierre LaVerdere’s. This master teacher is a complex personality who challenges his students in ways that don’t always seem responsible. LaVerdere manages the school’s honor society, but honor means different things to different people.

Beattie

LaVerdere is youthful and easily relates to his charges. Sometimes, he seems too close to them; sometimes, his closeness feels like an act — a test. He is a brilliant talker who knows how to take full advantage of his charm. But one suspects a hollowness within.

The students are going through the usual crises: Their nuclear families are breaking down through divorce and/or illness. Generational tensions are accelerating. In September of 2001, the fall of the Manhattan towers and part of the Pentagon introduces an unfathomable element into their lives.

Has something about dependable dreams and life patterns changed forever?

Beattie, to her credit, resists the temptation of laying it on too thick. She carefully times the occurrences, character, and intensity of her 9/11 references. They invade Ben’s consciousness — or the reader’s — in ways that compromise progress in Ben’s adult life. He and his Bailey cohort are having trouble betting on the future or even gauging the “really” in “What do I really want?”

To read the entire review, as it appears in the Washington Independent Review of Books, click here:  A Wonderful Stroke of Luck

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Iconic monument raises brooding teenager’s fragile hopes

Ascent, by William Welsch. Book Broker Publishers. 324 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

This delightful and disturbing novel, set in St. Louis in the autumn of 1965, is essentially a coming of age tale focused on David Miles, a high school junior who defines himself as something of an outsider. The year is significant, as the Civil Rights Act had gone into effect only one year earlier, marking a kind of coming of age – though a tortured one – for the United States. It was also the time of a symbolic coming of age for the city of St. Louis, symbolized by the completion of the famous Gateway Arch, itself a symbol of a continent-wide nation.  ascentcover

The book, which takes its title (and cover art) from viewing the arch as a symbol of ascent and inspiration, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the arch. However, the crisis of race relations that is portrayed in the narrative has only amplified in this special anniversary year. One wonders: perhaps David Miles has grown up a bit, but has St. Louis and the country really matured?

When Douglas Findley, a new English teacher at Glendale Prep, challenges his students to widen their horizons by exploring beyond their comfortable neighborhoods, David is awakened to the sorry state of race relations and the enormous wealth and opportunity disparities in St. Louis. When his family’s Afro-American housekeeper and cook Dorothea, felt to be a second mother, is not invited to the wedding of David’s older brother Chip, the hardened barriers between White and Black St. Louis are potently underscored.

WilliamWelsch

The portrait of David as a shy, sensitive, academically weak high school student is amplified and rounded by his many other rolls: neighborhood baby sitter, stumbling seeker of young female companionship, dreamer, follower to nonconformist risk taker Jim, occasional assistant in his father’s furniture store, driver of Dorothea (the housekeeper) from and to her home in the “colored” district, brother in the shadow of the “perfect son” Chip, comforter to his cancer-plagued mother, and aspiring writer. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 20, 2016 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 21 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Ascent

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