The Frog King: A Love Story
by Adam Davies '94
At first glance, Harry Driscoll isn't exactly a guy you want to bring home to meet your mother. A commitment-phobe who illegally occupies a room in a New York City rent-controlled apartment, Harry is dangerously close to getting fired from his entry-level publishing job. Add a penchant for binge drinking and persistent rashes, and he's one glamorous package. Despite it all, he is oddly charming.
And Harry's got dreams. Maybe some day he'll finish writing the novel hidden in his closet. And he yearns-even though he'd sarcastically dismiss such an idea-for love. His wealthy family, a young homeless girl, and his girlfriend all offer it, but he cannot accept.
This is the character at the center of The Frog King, a first novel that has placed Adam Davies '94 on the literary world's list of major young talents. (See the profile of Davies on page 6.) In Harry Driscoll, Davies has created an intriguing failure.
And his failure is richly deserved. Harry, who has toiled for years at Prestige Publishing without advancing up the ladder, comes to work late. Never reads the unsolicited manuscripts piled on his desk. Spikes his coffee. Even trades the custodial staff newly published books in exchange for leftover food collected from executive meetings.
Perhaps the only reason Harry goes into work is Evie, a fellow low-level editor who waits with great patience for Harry to feel as strongly for her as she does for him. She waits for Harry to take just one chance-on finding a gem hidden in the manuscripts piled on his desk and, more importantly, on her. Evie longs to hear Harry say the word "love" to her. Just once.
Instead, Harry lies to and cheats on everyone and everything that matters to him. When his lies begin to unravel, painfully and hilariously, Harry must search for salvation in an icy New York City night.
Davies's love of words, culture, and love itself resonate through the novel. The book is full of sly, clever references that will leave neophyte wordsmiths running for their dictionaries. Davies also offers an insightful, convincing, portrait of Prestige all the more real for drawing on his own experience at Random House.
Above all, the characters are convincing. Harry and Evie become real for readers; we care about them. And we root for Harry-who, beneath the rashes, the lying, and the drinking, is intelligent, witty, and, yes, romantic. Davies captures the fear, excitement, and weak-kneed desperation of love in its deepest and most vulnerable form. As the title suggests, The Frog King is indeed a love story, one that is woven intricately around the insecurities of Harry's heart.
-Rachel Mohr Handel '94, director of external relations at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
The Art of Seeing
by Cammie McGovern '85
The Art of Seeing captivates you twice. The book's initial pleasure lies in its sure touch with the tensions and complex dependencies of sisterhood. But its lasting hold on you has to do with the way those tensions gather momentum and intensity, moving into the deeper territory of powerful sympathies.
In her first novel, Cammie McGovern tells the story of Jemma, the younger, more dependent sister, and Rozzie, who overshadows her. As Jemma watches-admiring, resentful, and feeling somehow responsible-Rozzie grows from being a protective older sister, to an estranged teenager, to something at once glamorous and alien: a film star, snatched up by Hollywood before she even finishes high school.
In short scenes, with spare, finely crafted sentences and deftly rendered dialogue, McGovern captures childhood need, teenage self-consciousness, young adult floundering, and the subtle emotional ties of siblings, while evoking a household, a neighborhood, a school, a place and time-all so naturally that the family's transformation, the set of striking changes wrought by Rozzie's success, flows as if fated. (McGovern can write about celebrity from experience. Her sister is Elizabeth McGovern, the actress.)
The action unfolds in a set of double motions: the point of view shifts back and forth from Jemma's voice to a third-person narrative; the scenes alternate between past (starting in 1975) and present (the '90s). Fraught with conflicts rooted in the past, the drama springs from a crisis that dominates the present: Rozzie, who has been hiding eyesight problems for years, finally goes blind and is in the hospital, recovering from an operation that may or may not restore her sight. Jemma, meanwhile, has been adrift, unable to embrace her vocation as a photographer, in large part because she has never freed herself from a dependency on Rozzie, a dependency she resents even as she clings to it. For the moment, she helps care for her sister.
Blindness, film, unrevealed secrets, a celebrity's imprisonment in image, a photographer's capacity to both disclose and distort: at play here is the metaphor of sight, with its implications of insight and understanding. One of the many virtues of The Art of Seeing is the way McGovern draws on this metaphor skillfully, letting the story shape it, refusing to belabor it.
More impressive still is the powerful, suspenseful turn the novel takes, as Rozzie becomes more dependent, Jemma more secretive, more distant, and as the third-person voice assumes Rozzie's point of view, allowing for deeper discovery-by Rozzie herself, by the reader.
McGovern uses language sparely but masterfully. Describing Rozzie's fractured vision, she writes: "Colors take flight as if the street she stands on has been . . . a painted muslin backdrop loosed by the wind." Jemma, who has been sending slides of her photographs to galleries, bemoans her failure, saying, "All winter, rejection letters dribble in. My slides follow in self-addressed, self-stamped body bags."
Ultimately, this is a book about overcoming rejection-of self, of sibling, of family-through insight, earned the hard way; through old, deep connections finally understood.
Wrestling with Gabriel
by David Lynn '76
Carnegie Mellon University Press
With the publication in 1999 of Fortune Telling, his collection of short stories, English professor and Kenyon Review editor David Lynn '76 established himself as a writer of tremendous versatility. The stories ranged widely over human experience and evoked settings from Appalachia to India. Above all, they tackled issues that matter.
Thus, it's no surprise that Lynn's first novel, Wrestling with Gabriel, is a multi-layered work that engages big themes: the barriers to social justice, the trade-offs that come with loyalty to ideas over individuals, the nature of truth, and the price of love. Set in an unnamed Iowa city feeling the brunt of industrial (and moral) decay, the novel opens with the rape of a poor, black girl. Although tragic enough, the crime is compounded by the arrest at the scene of Gabriel Salter, a young idealist who has recently arrived in town with a group of fellow socialists in the hope of organizing the workers of the local meatpacking plant.
Lynn deftly uses this premise to explore a range of issues, first among them the protean nature of truth itself. In the eyes of the girl's bitter father Leroy, Gabriel is little more than a symbol of the comfortable, powerful world of the white middle-class. Gabriel's friends, on the other hand, see the charges as politically concocted by a corrupt police force interested in discrediting the unionization effort. Wrestling with Gabriel does a superb job of illustrating just how wrong everyone is-how truth has more to do with background and life experience than with some abstract, objective reality.
The story unfolds through the eyes of Baltimore reporter Jason Currant, a classic burnt-out case, scarred by Vietnam and recently divorced from Gabriel's sister, Hilary, who convinces him to investigate the charges against her brother. Among the vivid characters whom Jason encounters are Simon, the union organizers' leader, who is prepared to sacrifice anyone, even Gabriel, for the cause; Grey, Gabriel's Native-American wife; and Costello, a policewoman hopelessly caught between her corrupt colleagues and her desire to do the right thing. Jason meets furtively with Costello, tours the meatpacking plant under false pretenses, and tracks down some workers who may have some insight into what really happened. For his trouble, he is nearly beaten to death. Throughout, the backdrop is haunting, the characters are complicated, and the insights-into guilt, innocence, and betrayal-are striking. By the time the jury reaches its verdict, one thing is clear: while Gabriel's fate will be decided, the larger questions will remain unanswered.
Lynn has written a political novel that transcends the genre by confronting the human cost that often accompanies the commitment to an ideal. Wrestling with Gabriel is both a deep book and a compelling story.
-Jim Zafris is a lawyer who also regularly reviews books for Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Reviews.
Collected Poems, 1952-1999
by Robert Mezey '55
University of Arkansas Press
Two prestigious awards frame Robert Mezey's extraordinary achievement thus far as a poet. His first book, The Lovemaker, won the Lamont Poetry Award in 1960. And in 2002 this recent volume, Collected Poems, 1952-1999, won the Poets' Prize, awarded by a group of fellow American poets. In between there have been many other honors and, more important, many other books of his own verse, anthologies he compiled, editions he edited, and countless individual poems and translations (or, as he prefers to call them, glosses or variations) published in prominent journals. An emeritus professor at Pomona College, and a Kenyon loyalist whose ties go back to John Crowe Ransom, Mezey writes with great craft and beauty, penetrating insight into human feeling, and, quite often, a wonderful comic spirit. The Collected Poems, covering a career of nearly fifty years, is a good place to begin.
Tests of Time: Essays
by William Gass '47
Alfred A. Knopf
Probing and playful, erudite and challenging-in both senses: difficult, pugnacious-the essays of Willam Gass '47 always take us deeper into the nature of writing, writers, ideas, culture, and language itself. Gass is of course equally admired as a novelist, and these essays are animated by imagination, taking their energy from inventive linguistic flights. Reading them is very much like flying as well-one soars and swoops with them, occasionally flips belly-up to the sky, and generally experiences an appealing, instructive turbulence.
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Daniel Mark Epstein '70
Henry Holt and Company
When distinguished poet and biographer Daniel Mark Epstein learned of a trove of previously unexamined diaries, journals, and letters by Edna St. Vincent Millay-"America's foremost love poet, a poet of the erotic impulse"-he quickly secured permission to study the material and spent months at the Library of Congress going through it. Epstein was rewarded with "a rare view of a poet's psyche" and fresh insights into the private life underlying Millay's very public career and, above all, her poems. Those insights, informed by Epstein's own artistic sensibility, became a fascinating book that adds significantly to our understanding of a remarkable literary figure.
History and the Internet: A Guide
by Patrick D. Reagan '75
A history professor at Tennessee Technological University, Patrick Reagan sees the burgeoning of the World Wide Web, along with computer resources like search engines and CD-ROMs, as offering the promise of "a truly multidimensional way of creating historical interpretations that brings the past alive." This "guide" is just that, an eminently useful handbook for students as well as teachers. Using excellent examples, Reagan covers everything from sound archives to historical simulation, and of course he lists scores of Web sites. Nor has he neglected the crucial subject of how to evaluate Web sites, offering suggestions on assessing sites' authority, accuracy, and objectivity.
Voices of the Oral Deaf: Fourteen Role Models Speak out
by Jim Reisler '80
McFarland and Company
The father of a deaf daughter, Jim Reisler has compiled an inspiring collection of interviews with deaf people who live successfully in the mainstream. Acknowledging the views of Deaf-Culture advocates who insist on the exclusive use of sign language, Reisler nevertheless focuses here on people who communicate with speech, although most know sign language as well. In their own words, a math professor, an accountant, an engineer, a high-school counselor, an architect, a business executive, and others tell of struggles and triumphs on the way to lives that are at once remarkable and remarkably normal.
The Art of Buying Art
by Alan Bamberger '72
Gordon's Art Reference, Inc.
What is a "giclee" print? Why is the "provenance" of an artwork important? Should you consider buying art over the Internet? What about online auctions? Anyone interested in buying art, from the overwhelmed novice to the aspiring collector, would do well to read Alan Bamberger's informative and engaging book. Author of the earlier Buy Art Smart (1990) and creator of the consumer-oriented Web site, www.artbusiness.com, Bamberger is a widely published art appraiser and consultant. Here he covers topics ranging from researching artists to analyzing prices, from gallery etiquette to the worrisome world of forgeries and scams. The Art of Buying Art is full of thoughtful suggestions, helpful hints, realistic examples, lists of reference works, and useful information-lots of it.
by Cheryl Schaff Lachowski '78
Bluestem Press (Emporia State University, Emporia, Kansas)
Winner of the 2001 Bluestem Poetry Award, this collection displays great range and lyric reach, with poems evoking nature, the inner life, history, science, and more. Lachowski's concerns are by turns earthly and metaphysical, her language keenly observing and song-like. A number of the poems have appeared in prestigious journals, including Prairie Schooner, Passages North, and, in one case ("Phi Beta Kappa Class of '78"), the Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin.
The Great Big Wagon that Rang: How the Liberty Bell Was Saved
by Joseph Slate, with illustrations by Craig Spearing
"The woodsman's ax rang like a struck bell. It felled the hickory and oak that boxed the bed and spoked the wheels of the great big wagon." Young children and early readers will enjoy the simple, striking lines and strong rhythms of this slim book, even as they are intrigued by the story it tells, of a small heroic episode in the American Revolution. Joseph Slate, remembered at Kenyon as a professor emeritus of art and known to the world as the creator of the Miss Bindergarten series, collaborates here with Craig Spearing, whose pictures evoke the sturdy grace of the great big Conestoga wagon that saves the Liberty Bell.
Steve Dunham '62, Tales of Teddy and Afternoon in the Balcony: Two Novellas, 1stBooks Library
Jim Bellows '47, The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency, Andrews McMeel Publishing
Caleb Carr '77, The Lessons of Terror, A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again, Random House
Edward E. Curtis IV '93, Islam in Black America: Identity, Liberation, and Difference in African-American Islamic Thought, State University of New York Press
Louis Everstine '54, The Meaning of Life: A Practical Guide to Staying Alive, Xlibris Corporation
Richard H. Schmidt '66, Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality, William B. Eerdmans
Richard H. Timberlake Jr. '46, They Never Saw Me Then, Xlibris Corporation
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