Drown by Junot Díaz

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The 150-word Review: There are moments in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao where Díaz’ street-wise, ghetto-nerd pyrotechnics fall away, where substance transcends style, and the authenticity of his characters shines: Lola’s story, Beli’s three loves, Abelard’s tragedy, Oscar’s final days in Santo Domingo. Long before Oscar Wao, Díaz cultivated this kernel of authenticity in the soil of his 1996 collection, Drown.

Shifting from a dusty campo in Santo Domingo to a crack house in New Jersey, Drown contains ten stories that read like snippets from a larger narrative. The victim of a brutal unprovoked attack in “Ysrael” returns in “No Face” to give us a glimpse into his daily life. A young man remembers “holding on” during his father’s abandonment in “Aguantando” then, in “Negocios,” he imagines his father’s lonely, frustrating struggle in America. In Drown, Díaz’ narrative subject is the immigrant, existing in two different worlds and belonging to neither.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: childhood bullies, sibling disputes, the first days of blunted-out adult independence, crack head girlfriends, summers at the pool, remembering childhood parties and watching the adults dance, fighting for a tenuous grip on the bottom rung of the American dream, fathers and mothers, and adolescent sexual fumblings.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, “Yunior” is Junot Díaz’ family nickname.

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Underworld by Don DeLillo

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The 150-word Review: Civilizations are built upon their waste. They are not only judged by what they create: art, architecture, literature, technology, laws; but also by what they leave behind: waste, detritus, garbage, excrement, and trash. By studying their waste, layer by layer, we can understand societies. Don DeLillo focuses a meticulous archeologist’s eye on the American civilization and its waste in his magnum opus, “Underworld.”

DeLillo has the ability to distill the universal down to the personal and to project the idiosyncratic upon the grand. In “Underworld,” DeLillo begins with an single object from a historic event, the missing baseball from the “Shot Heard Around the World” in 1951, and places it in the hands of his central protagonist, Nick Shay, a waste management executive, in 1992. From there, DeLillo works backwards, through each stratum, uncovering the traces of Nick’s life, while also studying the shifts and erosions of the American century.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: Jackie Gleason and Frank Sinatra, Bobby Thompson and Ralph Branca, J. Edgar Hoover, Lenny Bruce and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Baseball Memorabilia, Chess Prodigies, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, political and avant-garde art, and waste.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, the reason they called it a “shot heard around the world” was due to the high number of U.S. servicemen who listened to the game on Armed Forces radio.

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American Pastoral by Philip Roth

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The 150-word Review: Swede Levov, the protagonist from Philip Roth’s “American Pastoral” is a microcosm of the American century. As a young man, he was athletic, able, charismatic, designed for success, a paragon of American potential and assimilation. He was a manifestation of everything that was “good” with America.

Swede lives the American dream with his perfect family in an idyllic American town, but when his daughter commits a capricious act of political terror, Swede’s veneer of American bliss slowly crumbles and he becomes the embodiment of the turmoil and uncertainty that is also the American century.

Philip Roth’s ability to project sweeping themes upon his characters, while also focusing on their intimate failures and emotional idiosyncrasies with microscopic clarity, is unrivaled by any other contemporary author. Roth’s dissection of Swede Levov’s psyche transforms the bronze-like myth of “The Swede” into one of the most affecting tragic figures in all of American literature.

Having this book on your shelf will impress: Harold Bloom, the Weather Underground, Nathan Zuckerman, anyone who sincerely wants to better understand the American experience, the Pulitzer Prize committee, New Jersey suburbanites, and glove makers.

This book will go great with: an American Sweetheart.

Set the mood with: Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, American Pastoral is narrated by Nathan Zuckerman, Roth’s literary alter ego.

“The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!” by Tom Wolfe

Find your finest white suit and enjoy this article with a mason jar full of ‘shine. Cheers.

Springsteen’s Vision of America

Today on his website, Bruce Springsteen posted a letter endorsing Barack Obama.  The endorsement itself is not as striking to me as the Boss’ vision of America:

He speaks to the America I’ve envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that’s interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where “…nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone.”

Amen.