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June 26, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 6/26/20

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead (Anchor). It may be impossible at this exact hyper-fraught moment in America's history to be quite convincing about how important, scarifying and horrifying and …

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June 26, 2020

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THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead (Anchor). It may be impossible at this exact hyper-fraught moment in America's history to be quite convincing about how important, scarifying and horrifying and exhilarating and at once endlessly demanding, unforgiving, and liberating, are Colson Whitehead's two most recent novels—this one, last year's Pulitzer Prize winner, and THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD of 2016 (also a Pulitzer, and a National Book Award, as well). So, allow me just to declare that you aren't a serious reader at all until you've read them. And that there are just a few dozen books in the history of books that I'd say that about. Start with either one—this one is just out in this paperback reprint. Though THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD may be even better. Yes, I've come late to them. So join me in catching up.

SEPARATED: INSIDE AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Jacob Soboroff (Custom House/Morrow). Even-toned account of a really horrifying story, that of the separation of children from their families at our border. Its author, an NBC-TV reporter, was one of the first, and most persistent, of the many reporters on the matter. So, a calm recounting of the facts—there's a wail or three or four, but they're widely separated by facts, data, first-hand anecdotes. We experience his adventures with his colleagues, cameramen, and producers, and Soboroff is a good storyteller. But he never fails to return to his real story, that of children in cages for months without hope, losing if not their minds their personalities (know how long a year is in the life of a 5-year-old? Like 10 in yours, if you're just middle-aged. And that's not a regrettable byproduct of this system—it is the system: come to our border without all the right paperwork and bank accounts, and we'll silently torture your children. Endlessly. So? It'll serve you right.

ONE LAST LIE by Paul Doiron (St. Martin's). A mentor/father figure to our buddy Bowditch has disappeared, in a way that makes one wonder about not just his fate to come, but his past. The Maine forests in this one are those seriously wild ones around the Canadian border. It's at least as good as his best.

LOVE & OTHER CRIMES: STORIES by Sara Paretsky (Morrow). A big paperback original, 14 stories written over about 20 years. We learn that V. I. Warshawski isn't all this mystery fiction master can do (but 8 of the stories feature her). “Master” really is the word, in case you'd forgotten; this is almost like getting 14 new books, the stories are that deep and involving. Even the very few that are stunts are really rich stunts (there's as good a Sherlock pastiche as I've ever read).

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