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Crooked River Burning Paperback – October 12, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 33 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Any novel that takes Cleveland for its subject has a long legacy of ridicule to live up to. Yet Mark Winegardner's funny, tough, and elegiac Crooked River Burning is up to the task, tracing the city's devolution from steel-making powerhouse to the butt of an entire nation's jokes. Along the way the author manages to work in a number of peculiarly American (and, as it turns out, peculiarly Clevelandian) preoccupations: rock & roll, civil rights, labor, organized crime, JFK, professional sport. Mix and match themes like these with a star-crossed romance, and you have all the makings of a Big American Novel, complete with its own stoic, sad-sack refrain: "If a thing like this is going to happen, it just figures it'd happen here."

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this ambitious novel, Winegardner captures the interior life of Cleveland, Ohio, from the city's peak in the '40s to its lowest ebb in 1969, when the Cuyahoga River, saturated with pollutants, famously caught fire. David Zielinsky, first seen in 1948, is a 14-year-old raised in the ethnic enclave of Old Brooklyn, a Cleveland neighborhood. Since his mother drowned in California, he has lived with his Aunt Betty and Uncle Stan Lychak, instead of with Mikey Z., his father, a mob-connected Teamster Union official. Uncle Stan is a private detective who once worked for the great Eliot Ness. On the other side of town, in Shaker Heights, Anne O'Connor, the daughter of the ex-mayor and Democratic machine boss, Thomas O'Connor, inhabits a more affluent world. David and Anne meet in 1952 at a local vacation spot and fall in love. But it is a platonic idyll: David is already engaged to Irene Hrudka. The novel is structured around David and Anne's initial separation and their encounters over the years. David goes into politics, Anne embarks on a career in TV journalism. Unfolding in high modernist mode, the novel intelligently depicts the squabbles of local celebrities and the self-consciousness of second-tier cities. Winegardner moves from real historyDlike the story of Louis Seltzer, the editor of the Cleveland Press who almost singlehandedly provoked the murder case against Sam SheppardDto fictitious episodes, like David's speech in favor of Carl Stokes, Cleveland's first black mayor. Cleveland may be on the decline in this urban portrait, but Winegardner (The Veracruz Blues) infuses his tale with an exhilarating energy. Like Jonathan Franzen in The Twenty-Seventh City, or E.L. Doctorow in City of God, Winegardner takes on the American metropolis, making Cleveland his own in plain, straightforward prose. (Jan.) Forecast: Sales of this book may initially be regional, but good word of mouth could excite interest among readers looking for a long, leisurely novel that focuses on a tantalizing slice of contemporary history. Enthusiastic blurbs by Jonathan Lethem and Robert Olen Butler will enhance sales.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (October 12, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015601422X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156014229
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Grant Barber on January 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Don't let the description of the basic plot of this novel make you think in any way that it is derivative or ho-hum...the basic "boy from the wrong side of town" plot. It may seem to start there, but it is so much more by even just the first 25 pages.
This novel does what I look for in a book: tells a unique story, creating a time and place, with characters which live. To this extent The Albany Trilogy by Wm Kennedy comes closest to a reference on the literary map. The historical setting of the start of the second half of the 20th century, Cleveland (of all places, but it works!) gives a window to America, baseball, emerging women's and race issues, social classes, politics, life lived then in full color rather than black and white.
The real and true strength of the book though is in the mastery of language, playful and otherwise, astonishing, the explicit presence and voice of an author that is not intrusive to the story, but woven into the telling. Just as Lethem and Auster have their own unique voices and styles, so too does Winegardner.
There are other novel coming out right now. I personally am looking forward to new Delillo, and another from Norton titled Death of Vishnu, Peter Carey's newest. None of them can be stronger than this one though.
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Format: Paperback
Aside from an airport connection in Cincinnati, I have never set foot in Ohio so I can confidently state that one need not hail from Cleveland, or be a Drew Carey fan, to appreciate this ambitious novel. I couldn't wait to get back to it every night, and thought Winegardner's ambitious tale brought the city to life in my eyes.
The novel tells the story of Anne O'Connor and David Zielinsky, a mismatched couple from divurgent backgrounds who drift in and out of each other's lives over a long span of years. She is wealthy, daughter of a high-ranking politian, and a polished debuttante bored with the snobby rich boys she is expected to date. David, on the other hand, is politically ambitious, awkward, and the son of a colorful hard-drinking union man whose mother took off years earlier to Hollywood where she went chasing a movie career. The scenes in which David and Anne meet and get together at a vacation island in the lake, where David is visiting with his Aunt and Uncle, are wonderful and memorable.
The story of David and Anne is compelling, but not what I really remember and enjoyed most about this novel. Instead, I remember details of the Sam Shephard murder case (David's uncle is an investigator hired by the defense team, and David works on the case for awhile). I also remember lengthy cameos by Alan Freed and his first rock n roll shows; the effort by the Cleveland Indians to integrate baseball (their African American player, Larry Doby, entered the league just after Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers' celebrated player who broke the color barrier);cameos by newscaster Dorothy Fuldheim and black mayor Carl Stokes, etc.
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By A Customer on November 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
I have a friend who used to run a big independent bookstore here who says this novel is the worst-promoted great novel he's ever seen. Word of mouth on this book was good (my bookseller friend says a lot of independent stores really loved it), and I guess in the end it did do fairly well. But his publisher seemed to think that no one outside of Cleveland would want to read this, which is really weird, espcially when you see how fellow rustbelt books THE CORRECTIONS and MIDDLESEX did. I like both those novels a lot, but CROOKED RIVER BURNING lacks the sophomoric lapses those books fall into from time to time and has a much bigger scope than either one. I think that the best American novels published in this century are those three, Michael Chabon's THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY and Jonathan Lethem's THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE. They're all great and they deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. (They're all by writers who are about my age, too, for what that's worth.)
Anyway, when Winegardner's sequel to THE GODFATHER comes out, he'll probably finally get his due Somewhere in the hereafter, I bet Mario Puzo is thrilled such a talent agreed to take on the "family" business!
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Format: Paperback
I have lived in Cleveland for 10 years, and I truly enjoyed this book. Mark managed to actually put me back in time in 1948 when Rock and Roll was just getting started in America. His description of the World Series game that the Indians won that year was exciting, and I don't even like baseball. I loved the love story in the book, and I loved the way it ended.
This book is not just a book about Cleveland. It's a book about an era in American history. It's about life in the 50's; the birth of rock and roll; politics of the time; and love, not so different from what you and I experience today.
About the river: It's hard to believe that the river was so polluted back then when it's so clean now -- hard to imagine. We really have come a long way. Cleveland rocks!!!
I hope Mark's next novel will come out soon.
Come and see us in Cleveland!
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