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Book reviews: Bestsellers herald upcoming author visits

Jennie Lay/For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Book review
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“Truevine,” by Beth Macy

Beth Macy’s “Truevine” lays bare the story of George and Willie Muse, albino African American brothers who were kidnapped young and enslaved as circus freaks at the turn of the last century. The book traces their mother’s quest to find them and how she doggedly sought justice once they were reunited.

“Truevine,” by Beth Macy

It is a dredging of the Jim Crow South, told through the lens of one small town called Truevine, “a speck of land where slaves and their descendants became sharecroppers, then sewing-machine operators, then unemployed workers before, finally, those who could afford to, anyway — they fled.”

A Muse cousin would reflect: “Only in a place like Truevine … could the notion of being kidnapped seem almost like an opportunity.”

“Truevine” is an investigative journalist’s dream. Macy, a veteran reporter, dug into her deep experience covering Virginia’s racism and poverty, sank her teeth into an intimate, strange and compelling story with big characters and legal intrigue, then continued to peel back the layers of racism, poverty, social justice, segregation and labor struggles — the American quagmire.

As international sideshow celebrities with a long-suffering family back home, the Muse brothers became a face for examining social ills. They had a deadbeat dad, but a powerful, relentless mother. She made desperate choices, but fought unprecedented battles for her sons. Macy reveals the sordid history of circus and puts a spotlight on American hate.

Macy shares infinite details in smooth, brilliant storytelling. Her research reminds us of the imperative significance of newspapers — putting history on record, a culmination of facts and context and moments in time, so stories can be revisited over time: “George and Willie were modern-day slaves, hidden in plain sight, at a time when naïve and eager audiences didn’t think to ask questions about contracts or working conditions, and civil rights didn’t much exist for children, women, or blacks.”

The book offers a hard look in the American mirror.

Macy will talk about “Truevine” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6 at Bud Werner Memorial Libarary, during a free event that is part of the library’s ongoing author series. The event also includes book sales and author signing.

“Today Will Be Different,” by Maria Semple

Maria Semple has crafted a singular, hilarious brand of introspective snark in her renditions of pressures and perversions in middle-aged urban life. In her new novel, “Today Will Be Different,” Semple introduces us to Eleanor Flood. By all accounts, she’s a hot mess of a heroine who is filled with anxiety for just about everything, yet somehow, she is hard not to fall in love with.

“Today Will Be Different,” by Maria Semple

Flood is a famous animator who is stuck in a creative rut of epic proportion. She is bogged down by the mundane aspects of managing family life in Seattle. Her young son is honing a penchant for makeup. Her sports-team-surgeon husband is keeping something secret. Flood’s monkey mind has wound everything into an absurd, worst-case scenario.

The antics and obsessions culminate with the emergence of Flood’s long-lost graphic memoir, a tale she would rather keep under wraps. An unraveling launches the reader into laughter and tears through neurotic encounters and darkly humorous reminiscences of a poignant family history that played out in Aspen.

Semple’s observations are keen, and her voice is distinct. In the vein of her mega-bestselling “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” Semple again wields extreme wit in eyebrow-raising observations of the everyday, mixed with her character’s overwhelming hang-ups. With a mash-up of prose and graphic novel “Today Will Be Different” delivers a clever storytelling format and existential crises worthy of your sharp, knowing belly laugh.

Semple is slated to talk about “Today Will Be Different” at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 30 in Library Hall. The event is free and part of Bud Werner Memorial Library’s ongoing author series.

Book sales and author signing will also be available.

These books are available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and Off the Beaten Path.

Jennie Lay is the adult programs coordinator at the Bud Werner Memorial Library.


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