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Crooked River Burning Hardcover – January 18, 2001
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And a Big American Novel it is--perhaps self-consciously so. The hero, David Zielinsky, is the earnest young product of Cleveland's ethnic, blue-collar West Side; his dream girl, Anne O'Connor, hails from snooty Shaker Heights and is smarter, prettier, and richer than anyone she knows. It's no surprise when these two fall in love, but they spend many years tiptoeing around this inevitability. In the interim David marries, starts a family, and nurses political ambitions, while Anne forges her own career in local TV news. Winegardner, meanwhile, has other fish to fry. He devotes entire chapters to such local luminaries as Dorothy Fuldheim, the city's woman broadcasting pioneer; Carl Stokes, its groundbreaking black mayor; Alan Freed, the DJ who credited himself with naming rock & roll; and more sports heroes, seasons, and individual games than you can shake an American institution at.
These are fascinating stories. It does, to be sure, take some time to get used to the constant, hectoring intrusion of the second person: "You lived in the present, dreamed of the future, and, until you were an old man, thought little of the past. And in a country with a fascist's love of victory, few understood that you rode into history on a rocket called defeat." In the end, though, all stylistic quibbles pale next to the wisdom and generosity with which Winegardner has drawn his characters--including the city itself. Anne loves her hometown "the way one loves a loyal family pet during its arthritic, bad-smelling final years," but one senses that for the author, the sentiment goes much deeper than that. Its very failures are lovely to him, and its persistence more lovely yet. As Anne herself might paraphrase Beckett: It can't go on. It goes on. --Mary Park
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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In many ways, I think this book does a better job at showing the passage of time than Michael Chabon's "Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay." To me, the heart of Chabon's book was the 1940-1 material. The chapters on 1945 and 1953, while nice, didn't add anything necessary. "Crooked River Burning," however, moves from the 1940s to the end of the Sixties, and it all holds together. For instance, the baseball game where David sees Satchel Paige pitch in 1948 picks up special resonance in the mid-60s for David and plays a part in the unravelling of his marriage. Very good plotting.
As for the footnotes, these were mostly in special chapters on real Cleveland figures, and didn't bother me at all. Chabon had footnotes in "Kavalier and Clay" as well.
A good novel about the recent past in a city usually overlooked.