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by George: A Novel Paperback – August 25, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, writing under his given name Wesley Stace (Misfortune), crafts a British performing family's saga filled with wit, warmth and imagination. George Fisher is 11 years old in 1973 when his mother, Frankie, enjoying a successful run as Peter Pan, delivers him to Upside Boarding School. George misses his family, particularly his 93-year-old great-grandmother Evangeline, who for many years performed as a ventriloquist—as did her son, Joe. Under the watchful eye of the headmaster, George learns to escape student responsibilities by cheating, throwing his voice and befriending the groundskeeper, who gives him ventriloquism how-to books. George's school-days narrative alternates with another memoiristic voice from 1930, that of Joe's dummy, also called George. While George the schoolboy leaves Upside, eventually finding work in the family business, George the dummy accompanies Joe on the road to entertain troops during WWII. In different eras, boy and dummy each finds his own voice, plus some understanding of a world full of trickery and illusion. Family secrets revealed are not much of a surprise, but Stace amasses enough gently ironic humor (including sly references to Harry Potter and David Copperfield), emotion and insight to carry his voices beautifully. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* This second novel by the author of Misfortune (2005) wends its way through a labyrinth of familial idiosyncrasies, grudges, and conundrums. As John Wesley Harding, Stace writes lyrics and performs music, and his folksy style infuses an air of warmth and humor to what is essentially the story of a controlling woman who nearly ruins her entire family. The multilinear and multigenerational tale begins with the last days of an elderly vaudeville ventriloquist, Echo Ender, whose onstage success with her dummy, Naughty Narcissus, ensures entry into the entertainment world for future generations of her family. First comes Echo's son, Joe, also a ventriloquist, who has a dummy named George; he's followed by his flamboyant daughter, Frankie, an actress; and then by her withdrawn son, also named George, who develops his own talent for throwing his voice at boarding school. The two Georgesone a boy, the other a dummyare the joint narrators in this saga of the backstage failures behind one family's onstage success. The two Georges' stories eventually merge in a surprising conclusion to a novel that most readers will hate to see end. Characters spring to life in the words of the sardonic dummy, whose pointed comments about his wacky family make the book a hoot to read and beg the question, Who's in control, the puppet or the puppet master? Book groups will enjoy sorting out this one! Baker, Jennifer --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
I recommend "by George" as well as Mr. Stace's previous book Misfortune.
The family is in entertainment, starting with the matriarchical great grandmother, Echo, down through her son, his wife, grandaughter and then the now-living George. The wooden George belonged to the son who died in WWII, entertaining the troops with his ventriloquism until his death. He narrates part of the story. As strange as this seems, it is fitting and does not go over the top (he even makes a snide reference to the dummy in Goldman's book of the '70's which is very funny).
The story line follows the family, including George-the-living, through its history. Every generation has its conflicts, ghosts and skeletons in the closet. Therefore there is some tension from the outset. However, the tension builds and builds as the family's revelations come to light. Everyone older than George, including George the dummy, has secrets they reveal. The final secrets are brought out of the closet by the living George.
This is a terrific story following several generations in the entertainment business in England; starting in vaudeville, going through entertaining troops in WWII and all the way into television. The telling is sprinkled with humor. There is something reminiscent of "Water for Elephants" in that it is most of all a very good story in interesting settings. The revelations in every generation are startling, yet believable. The characters, including the supporting cast, are all interesting and have depth. The writing is very good as well. Highly recommended for a very good and entertaining family saga.