Gore Vidal’s Lincoln is an absolutely marvelous historical novel, far too good to interest average American readers who propelled North and South to the 1984 bestseller list.
Vidal doesn’t invent stories: He pulls out the stories hidden in historical documents, translates them into contemporary language, and puts them in dramatic context. He lets readers can decode the character and motivation of persons long since dead.
Vidal’s focus is Lincoln’s “White House” years. (During Lincoln’s occupancy, it was called the President’s House.)
The novel opens February, 1861 with president-elect Lincoln’s arrival in Washington, disguised in plain clothes and guarded by detective Allan Pinkerton.
The country has split over slavery.
Several “cotton republics” have already seceded from the Union.
Lincoln’s life has been threatened.
Lincoln has one overriding goal: Maintaining the unity of the states.
Vidal weaves into his narrative contrasting and conflicting impressions of Lincoln held by the people with whom he spent the most time: His personal staff, his cabinet, and the generals who he is forced to rely on to fight to save the Union.
Vidal’s writing is sparklingly clear and bubbles with humor.
Through the multiplicity of viewpoints, Vidal provides nuanced picture of President Lincoln, the politician.
Lincoln: A Novel by Gore Vidal
Random House 1st ed. 1984. 657 p.
1984 bestseller #10; my grade: A+
Like all Frederick Forsyth’s thrillers, The Fourth Protocol, is a riveting story of good guys—Britain and her allies—versus the bad guys of the Soviet bloc.
The story begins in London with the New Year’s Eve diamond heist from the home of a civil servant. Despite the jewels’ fame and value, the theft goes unreported.
The thief has unwittingly made off with something more valuable.
When he finds out what he has, he tries to set things right.
A package containing the inadvertently stolen item is delivered to Brigadier Bertie Clapstick at the Ministry of Defense.
Clapstick he calls John Preston, who had worked undercover for him in Northern Ireland. The wife of a jeweler had already called Preston to tell relate her husband’s words as he died from the injuries delivered by unknown assailants.
Preston convinces Clapstick and a few others that there’s a traitor in the Service. Those of his superiors who respect his work set Preston on the case.
Preston saves Britain, but is forced to realize its government doesn’t make the world better—a truth not unlike that embedded in novel’s dedication to Forsyth’s five-year-old son “without whose loving attentions this book would have been written in half the time.”
“…And Ladies of the Club” opens in 1868 as Congressman General Deming tells Waynesboro Female College graduates, “The hand that rocks the cradle is mightier than the hand that wields the sabre.”
The novel focused primarily on two graduates, Anne Gordon and Sally Rausch, reveals the truth underlying that cliché.
Both graduates are invited to become founding members of a local women’s literary club.
Sally accepts because she thinks the club might become influential in Waynesboro.
Anne accepts because Sally did: She can back out later.
Sally marries a German immigrant, Ludwig Rausch, a man with a passion for machinery and endowed with a business shrewdness equal to any Yankee’s.
Anne marries her childhood sweetheart, a doctor scarred by his experiences as a military surgeon and his family history.
Helen Hooven Santmyer traces the interwoven lives of the two women, their families, their small town, and America up until 1932.
Politics, wars, economic booms and depressions, social and technological changes are revealed the way people felt them.
“…And Ladies of the Club” is a marvelous work of historical fiction with an historical sweep and psychological intimacy equaling Anthony Trollope’s Palliser novels, John Galsworthy’s Forsythe novels, and Paul Scott’s The Jewel in the Crown.
Michael Cordelone, exiled to Sicily at the end of Mario Puzo’s novel The Godfather, is about to return to the US at the beginning of The Sicilian.
His father has ordered Michael to bring Salvatore “Turi” Guiliano to America with him.
Turi has been a bandit in the Robin Hood tradition since his teens. He is idolized by the poor for his opposition those who keep them poor: the government in Rome, the Mafia, the Catholic Church hierarchy, the police.
For seven years, Turi and his band have lived in the mountains, from which they raid and escape. Now Turi’s enemies seem to be joining forces against him.
Why does his father want Michael to help Turi?
How are the police and army getting information about Turi’s movements?
Can Michael get Turi out of the country before his enemies kill him?
Turi and the other characters are about as plausible as paper dolls.
There are a few tidbits of interesting Italian history in The Sicilian but the story is a bore.
Just as he did in Fools Die, his second attempt to recreate the success of The Godfather, in The Sicilian Mario Puzo produces an entirely forgettable novel.
The Sicilian: a novel by Mario Puzo
Linden Press/Simon & Schuster. 1984. 410 p.
1984 bestseller #3. My grade: B-
The Aquitaine Progression, like Robert Ludlum’s other thrillers, is an incredibly complex multi-layered story that demands all a reader’s attention.
The main character is Joel Converse, an international lawyer and former Navy pilot. During the Vietnam War, Converse had been imprisoned by the North Vietnamese, escaping to freedom on his third attempt.
The novel’s action is too complicated to relate but the premise at the novel’s core is too believable to be forgotten.
A handful of highly placed military men—in the U.S., France, West Germany, England, Israel, and South Africa are planning to, in effect, take over Europe and Europe’s former colonies in the Americas.
Their plan is to take advantage of peaceful demonstrations to create chaos. The conspirators have trained men ready to attacking both the demonstrators and the demonstrator’s opponents without revealing their own identifies.
In the confusion, the conspirators will assassinate the leaders of the major democracies, expecting that lawlessness they’ve sparked will make people beg for strong military leaders to restore order: The military men have the trained troops and the munitions needed to do that.
Although Ludlum was writing in the ‘80s, it takes little imagination to see how the plot he imagines could play out today.
The Talisman is a tour de force by a pair of authors known respectively for horror and fantasy novels: Stephen King and Peter Straub.
The novel’s hero is 12-year-old Jack Sawyer. Jack’s father is dead; his mother, Lily, dying of cancer.
The pair are holed up in a New Hampshire hotel in the off-season to get away from his uncle, Morgan Sloat, who is trying to get Lily to sign over property she inherited on her husband’s death.
Jack meets an old, black handyman, who encourages Jack to journey into a parallel universe called “The Territories” to bring back the Talisman to cure his mother’s cancer.
Jack develops the ability to flip between universes. In the Territories, Jack pushes west, running into all kinds of nasty creatures—some bestial, some humanoid—on his odyssey to find the Talisman.
The Talisman oozes blood and gore, but the most frightening elements are those that are most closely modeled after 20th century America: An employer who takes advantage of his employees and a sadistic preacher who runs a home for boys with behavior problems.
The Talisman is proof that novel writing by committees, even a two-person committee, leaves a great deal to be desired