Amber Stephens

ike most of America, Cape Cod has seen the consumer spectacle wash up on its shores. Determined to help nature reclaim her course, one Cape resident decides to blow up some of the area's most expensive beachfront homes.

Spectacular Happiness, a provocative new novel by Peter Kramer, tells the story of a middle-aged junior college English instructor struggling to reclaim the ideals of his youth. Once again Kramer, a psychiatrist who wrote the nonfiction bestsellers Listening to Prozac and Should You Leave?, digs into the human psyche, this time in a work of fiction.

Chip Samuels, a handyman and teacher with radical notions, lives in the small home his immigrant father built alongside the enormous estates on the Cape. Also living nearby is Sukey Kuykendahl, Samuels' former flame and current partner in crime. The two were linked by a love affair between their parents, and their devotion has endured into adulthood.

More important is Samuels' devotion to his wife Anais and the idealistic life they once shared. In a home full of free love and free spirits, Anais developed her pottery while striking out for months at a time to discover her soul. But as Anais' line of pottery grows in popularity, the link between the couple blurs.

Written as a journal for Samuels' teenage son, the novel intentionally glosses over the most private details of his life as a terrorist bomber. Unlike a typical beach read packed with riveting action scenes, Kramer's novel delivers with psychological insights. Motivated by ideals, Sukey and Samuels set out to change the minds of rich vacationers and national consumers. Hunted by the FBI and the scandal-driven media, Samuels turns to his journal to explain his actions to his son and the wife he once cherished. The result is a revealing look into the criminal mind and the genius required to out-maneuver pursuing law enforcement officers.

Kramer builds his work on the mind's desire. It is this desire that leads Samuels to risk all for the sake of gaining back everything, particularly his son. In the end, Spectacular Happiness is an explosion of ideals and a blasting comment on our era of conspicuous consumption.

Amber Stephens is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.

ike most of America, Cape Cod has seen the consumer spectacle wash up on its shores. Determined to help nature reclaim her course, one Cape resident decides to blow up some of the area's most expensive beachfront homes. Spectacular Happiness, a provocative new novel by Peter Kramer, tells the story of a middle-aged junior college […]

Ever since Chris Adrian's acclaimed short story "Every Night for a Thousand Years" appeared in the New Yorker in 1997, readers have waited for the release of the author's first novel. In Gob's Grief, their wait is rewarded with a visionary book that builds on the Civil War-era story first introduced some four years earlier.

In the original tale, American poet Walt Whitman watches over the deathbed of a child soldier suffering his final days in an Army hospital. Whitman's despair drives him to near madness. In Gob's Grief, Whitman makes the acquaintance of George Washington Woodhull, better known as Gob, the fictitious son of real-life feminist and presidential candidate Virginia Woodhull. Raised in the Ohio countryside by a quirky extended family, Gob apprentices himself to the man-beast Urfeist to unlock the secrets of death. Gob has suffered relentless anguish since his 11-year-old-brother Tomo ran off to fight in the Civil War and was killed. Now he is driven to build a machine that will bring his brother and thousands of other Civil War dead back to life.

Now studying to become doctor (as is author Chris Adrian) Gob constructs a mechanical device that eventually spreads throughout his New York City townhouse. Guided by the drawings of Gob's wife, the machine becomes a gruesome manifestation of his madness.

Part history novel, part science fiction, Gob's Grief delves into the depths of passion that motivates the unique collection of characters. Well researched and vividly imagined, the novel details Virginia Woodhull's quest for women's suffrage and free love with excerpts from actual speeches. Some of Whitman's writings are used with poignant effect, too.

Through it all Adrian's descriptive writing marries madness and reality. As Virginia confers with her muses and Whitman waxes poetic, the line between fact and fiction blurs. Gob's Grief is a memorable exploration into the mind of madness.

Amber Stephens is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.

Ever since Chris Adrian's acclaimed short story "Every Night for a Thousand Years" appeared in the New Yorker in 1997, readers have waited for the release of the author's first novel. In Gob's Grief, their wait is rewarded with a visionary book that builds on the Civil War-era story first introduced some four years earlier. […]

he small town of Halley's Landing is unexceptional in most respects. Its main attractions are the site of a supposed touchdown by its namesake comet, an old canal, and a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation every eighth of August. But the eclectic inhabitants of Halley's Landing are the town's real hallmarks.

In An Eighth of August by Dawn Turner Trice, family matriarch Cora Riley Hoskins welcomes family and friends to her large three-story house every year for the homecoming celebration. It's a party marked by good food, thanksgiving, and town events. Some years are more memorable than others, and a select few are not to be forgotten, no matter how painful.

Set in 1986, the story weaves together a chorus of narrative voices, including the head-strong Flossie Jo Penticott and her spindly sister-in-law Thelma Gray. There's also wayward Pepper, loyal Uncle Herbert, confused Sweet Alma, and saucy May Ruth. Together they tell the story of a family coming to terms with a tragic event and the healing power of forgiveness.

Trice, author of Only Twice I've Wished for Heaven, probes deeply into the question of what makes a family. She blurs the color line with the inclusion of a white British woman running away from her own family traumas into an African-American family.

The novel flashes back to 1973, when Sweet Alma was a pregnant teenager, disappointing her mother's dreams. It retells the choices made by Flossie Jo to keep her daughter respectable and recalls the family tragedy of 1985. But the novel is also the story of May Ruth and her journey from a married woman with a child to a drinking bird-watcher saved by Cora.

Because the story does not focus on one main character, the novel continuously evolves as the central tale unfolds. Each contributor gives it an added depth and sense of community. Trice's writing style and chapter headings keep readers from getting lost in the various narratives.

An enjoyable novel with a cacophony of voices, An Eighth of August is a sometimes humorous, insightful tale of family, community, and homecoming. Already compared to Gloria Naylor, author of The Women of Brewster Place, Trice has cemented her reputation as an able chronicler of the African-American experience.

Amber Stephens is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.

he small town of Halley's Landing is unexceptional in most respects. Its main attractions are the site of a supposed touchdown by its namesake comet, an old canal, and a celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation every eighth of August. But the eclectic inhabitants of Halley's Landing are the town's real hallmarks. In An Eighth of […]

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