Author Beth Macy, former reporter for The Roanoke Times, used to hear rumors about local African American brothers who’d been kidnapped by the circus. Impenetrably shielded by their family, the brothers’ fate remained private until their grand-niece Nancy Saunders agreed to allow Macy to share their history. The result is Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South.
Brothers George and Willie Muse were born in the 1890s in Truevine, VA, a rural and impoverished community of former slaves and their descendants — where Jim Crow reigned and “justice” might have meant lynching. Both brothers were born with albinism, which gave them golden hair, milky skin and light-sensitive pale blue eyes, which were a curse for children expected to toil in tobacco fields under the broiling sun. One day, the little Muse boys disappeared...the same day a White man in a carriage was seen riding through Truevine.
Before television or radio, America had the circus. Traveling circuses large and small entertained folks with their performers, animals and, though appalling by current sensibilities, sideshow acts. Featured along with giants, fat ladies and pinheads were the headliners billed as the Ambassadors from Mars, or sometimes as the sheep-headed cannibals Eko and Iko, aka George and Willie Muse, who eventually traveled the United States and abroad as part of the “greatest show on earth.”
Macy gives the reader two stories in Truevine. One is of the Muse brothers and their mother Harriet, an amazing woman — a Black domestic worker who repeatedly used the deeply racist legal system to challenge the influential entertainment industry to recover her children and end the exploitive working conditions under which they were held. The other, tightly entwined with the Muse narrative, is the historical detail on the circus and its freak shows, a microcosm which reflected broader societal norms. Well researched, fascinating and profoundly moving, Truevine is a story which needed to be told.
James Lasdun’s new novel The Fall Guy is a deliciously taut psychological thriller. As the story opens, three friends are on their way to spend a peaceful summer in the country, but readers soon realize there is something malevolent lurking beneath the trio’s careful manners.
Matthew, an unemployed chef, jumps at the chance to stay with his cousin Charlie, a wealthy banker, at his idyllic retreat in the mountains of New York. It will be a chance to get away from the city and figure out what’s next for him. It’s also an opportunity to spend the summer with Charlie’s wife Chloe, who he admits he is very fond of. His fondness actually seems a little more like infatuation, but not even Charlie seems to mind that Matthew covets his wife. After all, Chloe is perfect. Who wouldn’t idolize her a little bit?
As the days blaze on, and the characters spend more time with one another over elaborately prepared dinners and too much wine, the smooth veneers start to crack. The real jealousies and tensions show through. Secrets from the cousins’ past are brought to light that make readers wonder if they understood these characters at all or have any clue what they are actually doing this summer. Is Matthew just a nice guy trying to figure his life out after all? Is Charlie spending his days working on a new business deal in the city? Does Chloe know about Matthew’s mild obsession with her, or is she being secretive for another reason altogether? And, ultimately, how long can this go on before it boils over?
Lasdun weaves in the clues so deftly they are hard to recognize until chapters later. The writing is clever and quietly unnerving. Lasdun creates a unique kind of suspense which sets him apart from contemporaries.
Fans of smart, suspenseful stories like The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith are sure to love this book.
Looking for the next good book to read or a perfect holiday gift? BCPL librarians shared some of their most anticipated books coming out this fall and winter with customers at Book Buzz sessions around the county. It’s always hard to pick, but the librarians did come up with these favorites, already popular with so many readers.
Two iconic leaders are featured in our nonfiction picks. Candice Millard offers a fascinating account of Winston Churchill’s experiences during the Boer War in Hero of the Empire and Julia Baird uses the journals of Queen Victoria to shed light on the monarch in Victoria: The Queen: An Intimate Biography of the Woman Who Ruled an Empire.
Among the many exciting fiction titles released this fall and winter are this diverse group. The Heart of Henry Quantum by Pepper Harding explores contemporary middle-aged relationships, telling the story from three perspectives — a husband, a wife and the “one who got away.” Thriller fans will devour Holly Brown’s This Is Not Over, a story of two women caught in an escalating game of cat and mouse using hidden secrets in a psychological battle that leads to an explosive ending. Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth is a beautifully written novel that crosses generations and looks at the random events that have the biggest impact on our lives. Another family story that explores how one decision can shape lives is The Mothers, an unforgettable debut novel by Brit Bennett, my favorite of this season.
What could possibly go wrong at an ordinary neighborhood barbecue? In Liane Moriarty’s latest novel Truly Madly Guilty, we meet three families left reeling after a horrible occurrence at a friendly backyard get-together.
Set in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia, Truly Madly Guilty follows thirtysomething Clementine, a freelance cellist preparing to audition with the Sydney orchestra; Erika, Clementine’s very organized and slightly OCD childhood friend; and Tiffany, Erika’s sultry next door neighbor who has a secret past.
Clementine is married to Sam and has two young daughters, Holly and Ruby. Clementine and Sam once had a loving and communicative relationship, but now they barely speak to each other. They both feel guilty and blame each other for what happened at the barbecue. Erika, who plans everything, is the child of a hoarder and lives a structured and organized life with her socially anxious husband Oliver. Erika accidently became intoxicated during the barbecue, leading her to question her recollections of what happened that night. Meanwhile, the hosts of the unfortunate barbecue are fun-loving and carefree couple Vid and Tiffany. Though they have seemingly moved on from what took place in their backyard that day, their 10-year-old daughter Dakota has been acting strangely lately, showing symptoms of depression.
Told through interwoven narratives, Moriarty flips back and forth between the present-day barbecue and the day of the tragedy. The story gradually builds to what actually happened, keeping readers guessing until the heart wrenching reveal. Truly Madly Guilty encompasses elements of both mystery and suspense, but is ultimately an examination of adult friendships, the fragility of marriages and the way feelings of guilt can overtake our lives.
You always wanted a sequel, and here it is. Dark, weird, confusing and fascinating are all words to describe this head-bending follow up. What Chuck Palahniuk began in Fight Club, he brings full circle in Fight Club 2, and he does so with panache.
The book starts several years into the future. The Narrator is now married to Marla, and they have a child. But things are not as joyful as they seem. There are worms in the apple, and things start to fall apart quickly. Palahniuk’s prose is seductive and grand; he posits ideas and immediately pivots to shred them. How powerful is an idea; can it survive the thinker? Can it pass from one generation to the next? These are the sorts of questions that Fight Club 2 demands we answer, all while it assails us with an ideology of violent revolution that’s intended to free our souls from this corporate purgatory we inhabit. Certainly, this book makes clear above anything else that Tyler Durden’s nihilistic philosophy is as juvenile as it is empty.
In the end, the questions will linger longer than the answers, and the reader may be left wondering if anything was really answered at all. But for diehard Palahniuk and Fight Club fans, this is a must read regardless. All you can do is strap in and enjoy one more wild ride. If you enjoyed this and you haven’t read the original, you absolutely should pick it up and give it a read.
If you’re a graphic novel fan, you should also consider Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta, another tale of violent revolution. For something a little less violent, Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor tells the story of a young man whose story goes from mundane to mystical and poses a lot of similar questions about our lives and what they mean. Fans of the original book should consider Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, which similarly examines the sort of corporate prisons we build and what they do to us, or Charles Heller’s Catch-22, which take a little more roundabout route to examining man’s inhumanity to man and the effects of that violence on the soul.
Crooked dealers. Forgeries. Thefts. Looted antiquities. Readers will find it all in Gary Vikan’s highly readable and entertaining new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director. The distinguished medieval scholar and former director of the Walters Art Museum recently answered questions for Between the Covers in advance of his book talk at the Hereford Branch on December 4 at 2 p.m.
Between the Covers: Your new memoir, Sacred and Stolen: Confessions of a Museum Director, provides an insightful, often humorous look behind the scenes of the art world. What prompted you to share these stories with the public?
Gary Vikan: Over the years I became increasingly interested, as I gave tours of the Walters, in telling the stories behind the works of art — stories that are distinct from their art-historical narrative. Most works have a story, many are very interesting — and some straight-out scandalous.
BTC: Shady dealings, sketchy characters, stolen art — you cover it all. Did you worry you were saying too much?
GV: Not at all. Maybe not enough. My lectures on the book can go into that other territory.
BTC: Museums have to connect with people. How has the art experience for the public changed since you got into the business?
GV: I initially thought my job was to educate my audience. Now I think my job is to listen to my audience, and to meet them where they are. Ideally, I can create for them a setting in which works of art of the past can do their magic.
BTC: From 1994 to 2013, you were the director of the Walters Art Museum. What accomplishments are you most proud?
GV: We went free in 2006. That is what museums should be: FREE.
BTC: Of all the exhibitions you’ve curated during your career, do you have a favorite?
GV: Yes, Holy Image, Holy Space: Icons and Frescoes from Greece in 1988. It was the first major icon show in the U.S., and it was the first time I was able to empower the works fully in my installation.. People kissed the Plexiglas of the cases containing the icons.
BTC: You speak about the “Wild West” days of collecting when not a lot of questions were asked about the provenance of pieces. Where are we today with the trail of looted antiquities and threat to the world’s cultural heritage?
GV: We’re in what I call the “Post-Loot” age. I can tell that by what is NOT coming out of Syria and Iraq. Like our tobacco culture, our loot culture has changed profoundly over the last 30 years.
BTC: What do you see as the next challenges for museums?
GV: Being meaningful for audiences, and playing a meaningful role in addressing social justice and social ills. To be a player in healing.
BTC: You have a knack for telling an engaging story. Are there any plans to write a fictional whodunit set in the art world?
GV: Nope, because my reality is stranger than fiction. My next book is titled: The Shroud: Case Closed. And guess what, I prove the Shroud of Turin is a FAKE!
I have always fancied myself a baker, so I couldn’t wait to dig my teeth into Anne Byrn’s American Cake: From Colonial Gingerbread to Classic Layer, the Stories and Recipes Behind More Than 125 of Our Best-loved Cakes from Past to Present. In her latest, Byrn, the best-selling author of Cake Mix Doctor (which has one of my favorite, go to cake recipes — Chocolate Kahlua Cake), not only gives you delicious recipes, but the history behind some of your favorite cakes as well.
The book starts with baking in America in the mid-1600s and continues through the present. Home bakers did not always have modern day appliances, but they still baked wonderful cakes. There were times when some of the ingredients were scarce and people had to improvise, which, according to Byrn, is the mark of a good baker. We learn that early cake baking was done by the wealthy because the ingredients were expensive. Each recipe comes with a brief history. Maryland’s own Smith Island Cake has an entry. There were “war cakes” and “Depression cakes,” which were made without eggs, sugar or butter due to unavailability or rationing. Post-World War II, fictional character Betty Crocker had a large influence on women with her cake mixes and cookbooks.
American Cake tells the story of our nation’s history through my favorite treat, cake. Don’t worry, you don’t have to cook over an open fire — Byrn has updated the recipes for our modern bakers. Many of these recipes will be in my baking rotation. Happy baking and more importantly, happy eating.