PETE HAMILL’S, “FORVER.”

Pete Hamill’s, “Forever” is a very long novel, highly ambitious, at times brilliant, and enchanting, and at at times, sadly spends too much time on the smell of feces and urine in the 1700 and 1800’s in New York City.

Few major writers, have known and understood the city of New York better than Mr. Hamill. Few have written more accurately and passionately about the city.

Yet, it is the first hundred pages or so of this novel that I found the most spellbinding and they take place in Northern Ireland during the middle of the 1700’s when the British have literally conquered this part of the country and have made the practice of all religions, besides the Protestant religion, unlawful. Only the Protestants can own land, find work, and truly live in freedom.

Cormac O’Connor, the hero of this novel, sees his mother run over and killed by the Earl of Warren and later witnesses the murder of his father by one of the Earl’s men. His father practices the religion of “Irish,” that is deep in folklore and mysticism. Cormac, at the age of sixteen, is given the task of revenging his father’s death by not only killing the Earl but killing the last of his line. 

This takes him to New York City, where he is granted immortality as long as he never leaves the island of Manhattan. He plays a role in the Revolutionary War when General Washington invades the city at the very beginning of the war. He lives through the great fire of 1835 that destroyed most of Manhattan, he hangs out with Boss Bill Tweed, and is a witness to the bombing of the World Trade Center. Throughout this time, he keeps track of all the Earl’s descendents who travel to the city and take up residence. He is still bound by the oath of revenge, and cannot pass into the ‘Otherworld,’ where his mother, father, friends, and relatives now reside after dying unless he continues to revenge his father’s murder to the end of his time.

Mr. Hamill’s novel is as much about the history of the city, as it is about the oath of revenge. It is the people he befriends and the lovers he takes that give this novel a flavor as rich as the city itself. I highly recommend

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“WHAT IS TO COME,” BY OLIVER CASH

Just before I started reading this novel by Mr. Cash, I had just finished reading an interview by Maureen Dowd of The New York Times. The title of the article was, “Ex-Commish with the Dish,” a reference to the person she was interviewing, former New York and Los Angeles Police Commissioner, Bill Bratton.

Mr. Bratton is the commissioner who is credited with cleaning up New York City in the early to mid-nineties when the city saw a huge decrease in crime and murder and became one of the safest cities in the United States. Years later, to a similar degree, he performed a lesser miracle with the city of Los Angeles.

In my opinion, Mr. Bratton’s theory of policing is the best theory since Teddy Roosevelt used a similar theory when he was police commissioner in New York in the late 1890’s.57979409._SX318_ In short, the police have to work with and understand the people they are trying to protect. And what better way to have the people you are trying to protect have faith in you, than having officers patrol neighborhoods they were brought up in. If you have a large presence of Latino police officers in largely Latino neighborhoods, the same with black neighborhoods, Albanian neighborhoods, and Irish neighborhoods the police officers, who grew up in these areas, naturally understand the culture, and the citizens are more likely to trust them and to help them

That theory, as Mr. Bratton noted in the interview, was set back probably thirty years by the murder of George Floyd by the now convicted felony Derek Chauvin, and the protests that followed, and the idea of defunding the police and the constant coverage of police brutality by the news media. The police, those who put their lives on the line every time they go to work, are now the enemy… Despite the fact that ninety-ninety percent of all police officers do a wonderful job.

The interview by Ms. Dowd, could easily have been the prologue to Mr. Cash’s, “What Is To Come.” A book that is wildly entertaining, well written, and a work of searing political satire.

Mr. Cash, Oliver, is the main character in this book and we meet him after just a couple of pages as a group rioters dislodge from a bus, walk through a quiet Vermont neighborhood, and to the house of Oliver Cash. Mr. Cash, a conservative writer who is famous for writing his fictional, conservative novel ‘2025,’ is their target. First they burn down his house, and then they burn him alive, all in the pursuit of a better America, a more liberal country.

Six months later, Oliver, who has been in an induced coma, wakes up in a hospital bed, in terrible pain, with his wife and two children in the room with him. By this time, the United States has succeeded and become two countries. The liberal country where Oliver is now stuck in, and the conservative country that looks more or less like the old USA.

Quickly, he is told by his family that he is no longer allowed to call his wife, Mary, wife anymore, but Mary, and his children no longer son and daughter, but by their names. Both children, who constantly have their faces in their phones, are perfectly okay with this, whereas Mary is still skeptical.

The liberal region that Oliver now resides in has big plans for him, first rehabilitating his burned body with numerous surgeries, and then transforming and re-adjusting his brain to become a great liberal novelist. Oliver, still as conservative as always, goes along with their plan. In truth, he has no choice and pretends to be a liberal.

After finally leaving the hospital, and under close supervision he writes his first liberal novel for the region and it becomes a huge hit. It’s like overnight, this once nothing writer, is famous and suddenly they move him and his family into a mansion to live, overlooking the Pacific ocean. He writes like five other novels, each a bigger hit than the last, and suddenly he finds himself living the life of a “One Percenter.”

He is the toast of the Liberal Country, and despite losing his wife to his female supervisor, and never seeing his children, his life is grand. In fact, there is little difference between the conservative USA and the Liberal country where he is as big as Stephen King. The politicians live in gated communities, away from all the homeless people, and celebrities like Oliver have everything at their disposal… Minus a wife, children, religion, and literary freedom to write what you really want to write.

If you are a person with an open mind, this novel is for you. If you are looking for comedy, this novel is for you. If you are a political junkie, you’re going to either love or hate it, but it will be very difficult to put down. I highly recommend.

“THE UNFINISHED ODYSSEY OF ROBERT KENNEDY,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

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Back in the early 1990’s a gentleman, in a suit and tie, walked into the Palm Restaurant on a Saturday night. He was in his late sixties, maybe early seventies, and he was the first customer in the restaurant that night. He sat at one of my tables, and was waiting on two more guests. He ordered a drink, and after bringing it to him, he asked me where I was from? I told him that I was from the Bronx, but that my father was from Lawrence, Massachuetts.

He knew quite a bit about both places and he went on to tell me that as a political advisor, he had been in every state, and just about every city and town. I asked him who he worked for, and he answered Senator Robert Kennedy. He was his top advisor in the 1968 presidential campaign that ended with the tragic assassination of Mr. Kennedy.

He went on to tell me that whatever anyone thought about President John Kennedy was one thing, and as for Senator Ted Kennedy he simply waved his hand and remarked, “That’s another thing all together.”

He paused, as he looked out the window onto Santa Monica Blvd and then turned back to me with tears in his eyes and said, “But Robert Kennedy was the ‘best man’ I have ever known, and if anyone you know talks bad about him they didn’t really know the man.”

Over the years, I have told that story to only a few people, usually only people who I know really liked Mr. Kennedy like my lovely wife.

Mr. Halberstam’s book about the 1968 campaign, verifies all that the gentleman told me that night and Mr. Halberstam, in my opinion, is one of the great historians of our time. He gives you the facts, and does not sugar coat any of them.

Robert Kennedy was a unique politician, and sadly there have been few, if any, like him since the time of his death. He evolved as a fairly conservative, anti-communist politician and trouble shooter for his brother the President, into a moral, intelligent, and compassionate human being the likes of which so few politicians in the history of this country have ever witnessed.

He knew the world like few politicians ever had, travelled and talked to the downtrodden in the ghettos, the less educated in the distant mountain towns in many of our states, and helped the farmers and Mexicans at a time when it was not popular. He came out against the war in Vietnam, against his own party’s platform, and to the disgust of President Lyndon Johnson.

He championed the causes of black Americans when his advisors told him it wasn’t a wise thing to do, and besides they didn’t vote anyway. Yet, in 1968 Blacks and Mexican Americans showed up at the polls in record numbers to cast their vote for the only candidate who truly saw and understood their suffering, talked to them, and made promises they knew he would keep.

Like so many Americans, I have always wondered what the world would have been like if Robert Kennedy had lived, got his party’s nomination, and defeated one of the most corrupt, morally bankrupt human beings of all times. It certainly would have been much better, and the future of this country some forty years later I have no doubt a kinder, less bitter, place to live than it is now.

“A DRINKING LIFE,” BY PETE HAMILL

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The title of Pete Hamill’s novel (memoir) is “A Drinking Life,” but the title is slightly misleading. Yes, the novel is definitely about drinking, but it is also a brilliant sociological study of the Irish/American and Irish immigrants living in Brooklyn during the 40’s through the 60’s. Or as Mr. Hamill puts it, The Pre-War World II era and the post World War II era.

It is a time when the Catholic Church reigned supreme, where almost all the men worked at working class jobs, where families were quite large, five children or more, living in relatively small apartments, all democrats, and acceptance into manhood meant drinking hard and hanging out in bars.

Mr Hamil followed this pattern perfectly, except that he was also an avid reader, drew comics, read newspapers and travelled the world as a columnist for the NY POST, Novelist, and screenwriter. Whether in Mexico, Vietnam, Spain, Italy or Ireland the one constant was drinking in bars, with on and off girlfriends, at parties, and alone.

At a relatively early age, his late thirties, he stopped drinking completely and never touched a drop for the next 50 years he lived.

Recently, I have read a number of fabulous writers who for ninety-nine percent of their work have written wonderfully and constructed their novels perfectly, but in too many cases the writers have taken the easy way out at the end… The predictable way, but that is not the case with Mr. Hamill’s novel. It is perfect from the very beginning to the last line of this marvelous book.

ANN PATCHETT’S, “THE DUTCH HOUSE.”

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What a wonderful book, so beautifully written, about love, relationships, families, home, religion and abandonment. Ms. Patchett’s style is unadorned, fluid, and breathes with confidence and assurance. I have often said, that aspiring mystery writers should read all of Agatha Christie’s novels, and learn how to truly write a mystery.

In the case of Ms. Patchett, I would say that all aspiring, serious writers of drama should read this wonderful writer’s works. This is the third book I have read by her, and each one was wonderful and a lesson in how to write fluid, lucid, enthralling novels with great characters.

Maeve, the main female character in the book, is so perfectly developed through five decades of her life that you feel like you know her intimately, as though you have lived next door to her your whole life. 

The story is told in first person narrative by her younger brother Danny and it is the relationship between Maeve and him that is so inspiring and loving. It is a book that will stay with you for a long time. I highly, highly recommend.

“THE TEAMMATES,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

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I am a huge baseball fan. Basketball will always remain the sport I loved playing the most, playing it fifteen hours a day with my friends when we were young, but baseball has always been the sport I loved watching and listening to on the radio, and especially following the box scores. Growing up in the Bronx, I was originally a Red Sox fan, which stemmed from the fact that my father was from Boston and a Red Sox fan. The Mets were my favorite National League team, and as I got older I eventually went with my ‘roots’ and became a Yankee fan.

I have read numerous books on baseball, and I actually wrote one that I was very proud of, even if no one else was. The three baseball books that stand out to me are 1) Field of Dreams (Shoeless Joe), 2) The Natural (I thought the movie sucked) and 3) The Summer of 49 by David Halberstam.

And Now, another David Halberstam book, “The Teammates,” tops my list as the best baseball book I have ever read. It left me crying at the end. It is a profoundly human story, about four teammates… The great Ted Williams, Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky and Bobby Doerr… Who played together on the great Red Sox teams of the 40’s and remained close friends for over sixty years. Williams and Doerr are in the Hall of Fame, and it is a mystery why DiMaggio and Pesky are not. But, as duly noted, Joe DiMaggio was the better player, but his brother Dominic (who was a hell of a player) was one of the best human beings one could ever hope to meet.

The story starts out with Dominic DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky and a friend, David Flavin, driving down to Florida to see their dying friend Ted Williams. Bobby Doerr is unable to come because he is in Oregon tending to his wife of over sixty years who has suffered a second stroke. During the entire three day trip the radio is never turned on and Dominic and Johnny recall plays, at bats, a certain pitcher from sixty years ago as though it was yesterday. They relive the devastating defeat to the St. Louis Cardinals in the 46 World Series on a bloop base hit in game seven that would have been caught had DiMaggio not got injured the inning before and his replacement was an incompetent center fielder who misplayed the ball. And they recall, the crushing defeat to the Yankees in ’49’ on the last game of the season that would have sent them to the World Series.

But what makes this book so great is what took place off the baseball field and a friendship that lasted over sixty years between the four men. Williams’ generosity, and his love to preach and debate, and always looking out for his friends and the fishing trips. The way they were always at the bedside if one of them was sick or injured, and they were always in contact when one of their wives or children fell ill. Williams, who never missed a charity event that Dominic’s wife Emily was sponsoring, and she sponsored quite a few. They were all in their eighties at the time this book was written and they remained in contact to the very end.

Dominic’s phone calls to a dying Williams will leave you breathless. He sings opera to the greatest hitter of all time and in between songs they talk baseball, box scores, and naturally about their cherished friendships.

This is a gem of a book, and one does not have to like baseball to love this amazing portrayal of friendship and love.

ANN PATCHETT’S, “BEL CANTO.”

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To say that Ms. Patchett’s book is beautiful, would be an understatement. To think that I could love this book even more than Ms. Patchett’s, “The Patron Saint of Liars,”is hard to believe but I did.

“Bel Canto,” which won numerous awards is the type of book that stays with you. It is perfectly crafted, and structured, and very seldom will you see such a diverse cast of characters so beautifully developed over the course of a book.

One could say its main theme is MUSIC conquers all. Its universality transcends different cultures, language barriers, makes friends out of enemies, and brings lovers together.

Such an amazingly beautiful piece of literature.

“THE PATRON SAINT OF LIARS,” BY ANN PATCHETT

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What a wonderful book, simply wonderful. Ann Patchett’s, “The Patron Saint of Liars,” is beautifully written, superbly crafted and structured, with a cast of unforgettable characters.

The Novel, written in first person narrative, is told by three individuals, Rose, the mother, Wilson Abbort, the father, and Cecilia, the daughter.

It takes place in Habit, Kentucky at Saint Elizabeth’s Home for unwed mothers. It is run by Catholic nuns, and the Home was originally a very fancy hotel who the owner left to the Catholic Church.

The story mostly takes place in the 1960’s and 70’s when abortions weren’t so commonplace, so young ladies who did not want to keep their babies went to Homes like the one in this book where they stayed, free of charge, during their entire pregnancy and once they had given birth at a nearby hospital they were very seldom seen again, and their babies were handed over to families that were looking to adopt a baby.

Rose was one of these girls, but she decided in the end that she wanted to keep her baby, and marries the caretaker of the Home, Wilson Abbort…also known as Son. Rose works in the kitchen, with the lovable Sister Evangeline. Over the next fifteen years she becomes an expert cook, never taken a penny from the nuns.

This is a story that explores so many human emotions, from the beginning of pregnancies to the time the mothers give birth. It’s a reminder that one’s past can never be totally neglected, and that love is complicated, and that caring is not a weakness but a strength. I highly, highly recommend.

“FIASCO,” BY THOMAS E. RICKS

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Throughout my reading of Thomas E. Ricks, “Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq,” the song, “How Do You Sleep,” by the late John Lennon kept playing in my head.

And Why Do You Ask? Because despite the warnings from military experts, historians, UN Inspectors, and former military officials against going to war with Iraq, our high level government officials disregarded such warnings and our Congress refused to dig deeper into the issues for fear of appearing weak.

Yes, there was plenty of evidence that Saddam Hussein had ‘NO’ weapons of mass destruction, nor did he have anything to do with the 9/11 attacks and that going into Iraq could be quite costly, deadly, and never ending yet we went anyway.

The hawks, President George W. Bush (spend the Vietnam war protecting the coastline of the United States) Vice President Dick Cheney (I had more important issues than Vietnam) Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (spend his time in the military as a flight instructor) and Under Sec. of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (was too busy in the world of academia to spend any time in the jungles of Vietnam) assured us it would be a piece of cake and we would be welcomed as liberators.

Yes, these four armchair generals knew how easy it would be to just invade Iraq (on the cheap nevertheless, with insufficient manpower, and no plan after toppling Saddam, and a disregard for the culture of the land and the many different religious sects).

So I ask, once again, how do you Motherfuckers sleep at night knowing that everything you told the American Public was a lie, that the cost of the invasion at last count would be close to a half trillion dollars or more, and the cost in human lives (American soldiers, reporters, and innocent Iraqi civilians) would total in the tens of thousands and still rising and after nearly 20 years we are still there.

Mr. Ricks’ novel is a rich, comprehensive, illuminating, instructive, and sad story about the war in Iraq. It, once again, shows us how little we learned from the Korean War, Vietnam, and the Balkan wars, and how politics and winning elections are more important to our leaders than the lives of our soldiers.

“THE POWERS THAT BE,” BY DAVID HALBERSTAM

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David Halberstam, “The Powers That Be,” might very well be the best structured, conceived, multi-layered historical novel I have ever read. There are enough climaxes and fascinating individuals for at least ten movies. 

Mr. Halberstam weaves four entities, CBS, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, into an enthralling narrative of how the media influences politics, and how politicians influence the media.

The climaxes involve the coverage of World War II, The Vietnam war, the political conventions, and finally Watergate and the disreputable administration of Richard Nixon, a paranoid nutjob whose only loyalty was to himself.

The Watergate cover up, and the investigation and groundbreaking reporting are mainly contributed to the Washington Post and its two young reporters, Bernstein and Woodward, but as Mr. Halberstam points out it was Walter Cronkite’s TV specials that brought Watergate into the American Living room, with help from Time Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and the NY Times. Yet, it was the hardworking, tireless reporting of the Washington Post that made it all possible.

This is the book that is referenced when students of the media are writing essays on the evolution of TV and the importance of print media and the steadfast desire of reporters to inform and enlighten the American public about issues that expose the depths of corruption in our government.

This book is a masterpiece!!!!!!!