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Denise Showers has commented on (7) products.

Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century
Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century

Denise Showers, September 27, 2011

Tip O'Neill was a force; we all knew that. What Farrell shows us is just how wily the Speaker was, how he used his perceived burly oafishness to tremendous political advantage, how his "All politics is local" creed changed the landscape of the entire political and social nation. Reads like a fine political novel and is peppered with vignette after vignette that shows how this poor kid from Boston came into enough power to control Congress and work his particular magic on none other than Ronald Reagan. O'Neill was just as seedy and majestic as any early 20th-century pol, real or fictitious, and there's something about this particular underbelly that you don't really mind knowing about. Big fat book that I approached with my usual "I'll give you twenty pages to reel me in" attitude, and never put down, going back and reading passages again and again. And in fact the chapters are set up so that they can be read independently, should you wish not to commit a week's time all at once.

But you'll want to.
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Out Stealing Horses: A Novel by Per Petterson
Out Stealing Horses: A Novel

Denise Showers, March 22, 2011

Someone said this novel reads like a long short story, and that it does; the rhythm of the narrator's present moment and past reflection move together like slow, parallel glissandi on a well-tuned piano.

As a reflective composition ought to do, the two parts often merge in a way that some readers have found jarring. I submit that they are working too hard.

A Norwegian pensioner living out his days in a newly-purchased cabin, full enough of fixer-challenges to fill his days and occupy his head, finds himself face-to-face in the night with a past he has not retired to these woods to mull. A story that seemed like a pastoral reflection on a summer spent with a dad becomes complex and musky with adolescent awakening and a secret history of resistance against the Germans.

If the reader opens several chapters mixed-up about in which time and place we find ourselves, it is deliberate on the author's part, but not for its own sake: Trond, the protagonist, is beginning to have trouble discerning one from the other himself.

Terrible things have happened, but Trond has learned that "you decide when it hurts," and the sudden absence of the one friend his own age back in that woods of adolescence urges Trond toward a manhood he had not come there to find, that is, youth in the company of burly woodsmen with secretly heroic pasts and other secrets men's children are not meant to know, but often do.

If today Trond works his own land with a gas-powered chain saw (but has he bought the "right" brand for the neighborhood?), at fourteen or fifteen he has cleared an entire parcel alongside strong men with tools powered by brawn alone -- brawn, and the knowledge that "You decide when it hurts." And so we see relatively simple challenges -- who will clear the snow from the elder Trond's long driveway when winter sets in? -- as real enough, but pale, against the gigantic achievements of that long-ago and final summer with a dad. And yet the outlines of the new challenges are acute and solid.

To love this story, one must be willing to settle in and simply occupy the physical and temporal spaces Petterson creates, so similar, so distinct, and trust that the payoff will come. It does.





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Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Denise Showers, March 6, 2011

Sometimes you have to run away from home -- say, when you are fighting a nasty battle in the improbable state of Wisconsin -- and despite cringing at all the descriptions of this story, I went for it.

Am I ever glad.

Simonson is economical with her words to the point of wonder. I cannot recall the last time I got inside a character's skin as quickly and effortlessly as I came to see Mrs. Ali and the local surroundings as the Major sees them. We are immediately sympathetic to the trials of the Major who is suffering the sting of potentially losing a beloved set of heirlooms to what looks like greedy simpletons, and the further sting of a rather harsh continuous self-inventory in every interaction, especially early on with Mrs. Ali.

I really did chafe. How could a stuffy English town appeal to my need for immediate escape? But I'll return again and again to watch the sweet unfolding of the primary relationship in this novel, made sweeter, ironically, without a hint of saccharin. The several threads of the story are familiar ones. The character's unlikely, entirely plausible responses are not. Brava to this first novel.
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Talking God (Jim Chee Novels) by Tony Hillerman
Talking God (Jim Chee Novels)

Denise Showers, March 5, 2011

Hillerman somehow manages to get at the heart of Navajo beliefs without romanticizing them. As always in the Chee/Leaphorn mysteries, we see an older, less-traditional investigator (Leaphorn, who prides himself on rationality)juxtaposed and working with the younger, gut-thinking Chee, who works hard to stay traditional. Leaphorn doesn't believe in witches, but believes in people who believe in witches and, owing to a fatal error early in his career, never discounts the stories he hears about Navajo wolves, or "witches". Chee has found ways to navigate the worlds he inhabits in his heart and in his work but, at heart, remains an aspiring healer.

This novel opens with a Smithsonian curator finding on her desk a delivery-truck box full, of all things, of the bones of her own white ancestors, in a different curator's bid to make a point about all those "research" remains of American Indians in the archives at that institution.

What follows is a chase to Washington, D.C. for both Chee and Leaphorn, who end up improbably, yet believably, in the capital city, on their own time, pursuing clues to a corpse found along the railroad tracks back on the Navajo Nation.

Returning fans will find welcome, familiar themes: Leaphorn's wall map looms, as does the usually-disastrous love life of Jim Chee, and one Very Bad Guy is rendered complex, in Hillerman form -- never one-dimensional; the character's motives and environment having been consdidered, he is nonetheless ruthless and menacing.

A Hillerman strong suit, landscape is again deftly shaped into a character. Make that at least two characters, as we are treated not only to the daily machinations of desert weather and made to practically taste the ozone in a thunderstorm that passes the desert by, and equally to a dully-soaked Washington so vividly rendered that the reader chills a bit when Leaphorn goes out without the umbrella he has left in the trunk of his car back on the Nation, where it has collected dust for lack of use.

Woven together are characters and puzzle pieces that seem to be the sort of red herring lesser mystery authors use to throw the reader off the trail. But it is never so simple with Hillerman. Characters are worthy contradictions. Bad Guy and Bone-Sender would seem to be unrelated, and yet are not ... quite. A red-haired, Navajo wannabe of slight blood quantum , Bone-sender could be a caricature in lesser hands, yet the reader feels, if not quite sympathy, at least a sort of understanding of his misguided actions.

Two of Chee's love interests make appearances. The white Mary Landon writes from afar in Wisconsin, while Navajo-in-name-only Janet Pete figures prominently, having been set upon the Bone-sender case by her D.C. law firm in a case that, she believes, is not as clear-cut or innocently-taken as it might seem.

One of Hillerman's best of the 17 Chee and/or Leaphorn mysteries, Hillerman appeals to readers of many stripes, not just mystery lovers. In fact, this reader finds it tough to wrap her head around most mysteries, which seem too often to end in some cheap resolution. Hillerman's prose is tight, complete, and compelling. Dyed-in-the-wool fans can find inconsistencies in Talking God, but they're of the type that do not disturb the plot and simply make you know that you are, indeed, a dyed-in-the-wool Hillerman fan. Will satisfy many a literary-fiction lover.

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Talking God (Jim Chee Novels) by Tony Hillerman
Talking God (Jim Chee Novels)

Denise Showers, March 5, 2011

Hillerman somehow manages to get at the heart of Navajo beliefs without romanticizing them. As always in the Chee/Leaphorn mysteries, we see an older, less-traditional investigator (Leaphorn, who prides himself on rationality)juxtaposed and working with the younger, gut-thinking Chee, who works hard to stay traditional. Leaphorn doesn't believe in witches, but believes in people who believe in witches and, owing to a fatal error early in his career, never discounts the stories he hears about Navajo wolves, or "witches". Chee has found ways to navigate the worlds he inhabits in his heart and in his work but, at heart, remains an aspiring healer.

This novel opens with a Smithsonian curator finding on her desk a delivery-truck box full, of all things, of the bones of her own white ancestors, in a different curator's bid to make a point about all those "research" remains of American Indians in the archives at that institution.

What follows is a chase to Washington, D.C. for both Chee and Leaphorn, who end up improbably, yet believably, in the capital city, on their own time, pursuing clues to a corpse found along the railroad tracks back on the Navajo Nation.

Returning fans will find welcome, familiar themes: Leaphorn's wall map looms, as does the usually-disastrous love life of Jim Chee, and one Very Bad Guy is rendered complex, in Hillerman form -- never one-dimensional; the character's motives and environment having been consdidered, he is nonetheless ruthless and menacing.

A Hillerman strong suit, landscape is again deftly shaped into a character. Make that at least two characters, as we are treated not only to the daily machinations of desert weather and made to practically taste the ozone in a thunderstorm that passes the desert by, and equally to a dully-soaked Washington so vividly rendered that the reader chills a bit when Leaphorn goes out without the umbrella he has left in the trunk of his car back on the Nation, where it has collected dust for lack of use.

Woven together are characters and puzzle pieces that seem to be the sort of red herring lesser mystery authors use to throw the reader off the trail. But it is never so simple with Hillerman. Characters are worthy contradictions. Bad Guy and Bone-Sender would seem to be unrelated, and yet are not ... quite. A red-haired, Navajo wannabe of slight blood quantum , Bone-sender could be a caricature in lesser hands, yet the reader feels, if not quite sympathy, at least a sort of understanding of his misguided actions.

Two of Chee's love interests make appearances. The white Mary Landon writes from afar in Wisconsin, while Navajo-in-name-only Janet Pete figures prominently, having been set upon the Bone-sender case by her D.C. law firm in a case that, she believes, is not as clear-cut or innocently-taken as it might seem.

One of Hillerman's best of the 17 Chee and/or Leaphorn mysteries, Hillerman appeals to readers of many stripes, not just mystery lovers. In fact, this reader finds it tough to wrap her head around most mysteries, which seem too often to end in some cheap resolution. Hillerman's prose is tight, complete, and compelling. Dyed-in-the-wool fans can find inconsistencies in Talking God, but they're of the type that do not disturb the plot and simply make you know that you are, indeed, a dyed-in-the-wool Hillerman fan. Will satisfy many a literary-fiction lover.

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