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Archive for the ‘1960s’ Tag

Love and Espionage   Leave a comment

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American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson addresses a shopping list of timely topics: sexism, racism, politics and the meaning of family.

The story begins with a bang: the attempted murder of Marie Mitchell, an intelligence officer with the FBI. Marie’s story is told via a journal she writes to her young twin sons. She addresses them frequently, which reminds readers they’re privy to what a mother wants her children to know. As the novel progresses, the phrase in case anything happens could be added to most sentences.

Marie kills the would-be assassin who invades her Connecticut home, takes her kids and family dog to Martinique to hide in her estranged mother’s home. Marie’s narrative recounts her youth, including that she, her older sister and their father were left in New York City by their mother who returned to her island country.

Marie is intelligent and likeable, but her sister, Helene, has more personality as portrayed through Marie’s memories. The sisters are close. Helene decides she wants to be an FBI agent when she grows up; Marie follows suit after Helene mysteriously dies. However, because of gender and race, Marie’s given little opportunity for advancement.

Then, she’s approached to help undermine the revolutionary president of Burkina Faso Thomas Sankara.

Wilkinson takes the reader back to the 1960s, mid-1980s and early 1992 when the novel begins. At times fast-paced, at others more deliberate, Marie wonders about the role she’s assigned as she gets to know Sankara. Why she’s a target is the over-riding question.

American Spy
Four Bookmarks
Random House, 2018
292 pages

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As the Crows Fly   Leave a comment

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The Atomic Weight of Love begs the question: how heavy is love? Elizabeth J.Church’s novel has war as its bookends: World War II and Vietnam. The passage of time reflects changes in attitudes toward conflict and women.

Meridian Wallace is a brilliant, young student interested in pursuing not only a college education, but an advanced degree in ornithology. This is unusual in 1940s Chicago. While at university she meets and falls in love with professor Alden Whetstone, who is secretly involved with the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M. Although he can’t reveal his research, he convinces Meridian to postpone her studies, move across the country and marry him. There will be plenty of time later to pick up where she left off academically. Ha!

Alden’s commitment to his work and the slow disintegration of a loving relationship could seem a cliché. Yet, Meridian manages to flourish even when the attitudes of the day bear down on her. On her own, she continues to study birds without the benefit of academic resources, she makes a few friends despite being ostracized for not having a doctoral degree like most of the wives in her community. Although they are well-educated they do nothing with their education.

Meridian falls in love with a much younger man but maintains the façade of her marriage with Alden, who becomes increasingly narrow-minded and unlikable as the novel progresses.

The author is masterful in the transformation she ascribes to Meridian and the world around her.

The Atomic Weight of Love
Five Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2016
352 pages

Artistic Personas   1 comment

Even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of Patti Smith or Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, is more than an autobiographical look at the relationship between the two artists. It also examines life and culture in the late 1960s and 1970s.

I’m just young enough that Smith was never on my radar when I was growing up. And, I’m just old enough to be aware of the controversy caused by a retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work with the National Endowment for the Arts – long after his death. I might have skipped this book if not for a friend’s recommendation. I read it, and I’m glad.

Smith and Mapplethorpe met and lived together in New York City when they were  kids (twenty-year-olds) at a time when the underground music and art scenes were beginning to materialize. Their timing was perfect: she became part of the former and he part of the latter. Their paths crossed with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Todd Rundgren, Sam Shepard, Andy Warhol and many others.

Just Kids reflects the impressive strength of friendship Smith and Mapplethorpe created with one another. This is a love story, even though each went on to have different partners; it’s also Smith’s homage to her late friend and the era in which they emerged. Her voice is honest and unrestrained. It’s easy to imagine the romance of their early lives as they lived hand-to-mouth, meeting other up-and-coming artists all while discovering their own artistic personas.

Just Kids
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2010
283 pages

Posted August 26, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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