Before Ron Chernow’s new multi-dimensional portrait of WASHINGTON (Penguin Press, $40), the first president’s character, as portrayed in the standard accounts, was as lifeless as that of a waxworks figure. Chernow’s wide-ranging research, including newly found diaries and letters, rescues Washington from the mausoleum where historians have heretofore placed him, and establishes his rightful place in American history as a complex man of deep emotions and strong opinions. In the French and Indian War he was an insecure young colonel, but as General Washington he went on to lead the Continental Army to victory; in his first inaugural address his voice and hand trembled, but his mastery of political skills and his growing self-assurance and self-control elevated him to a status that earned the admiration and trust of the new American nation. To Chernow, he was the greatest president in our history.
After the unexpected deaths of his parents, both of them suicides and within an hour of each other, Wyatt Hillyer begins a new life and new career, learning the craft of sled- and toboggan-making under the caring eye of his uncle in 1941 Halifax, Nova Scotia. While confronting the grief, shock, and shame of his parents’ acts, he also comes face-to-face with the reality of World War II when German U-boats wreak havoc off the Canadian coast. First love and the consequences of a horrible crime and cover-up are just a couple of turns Wyatt also navigates. Revealed as a letter from the mature Wyatt to his daughter, Howard Norman’s story of WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25) is an exquisite narrative of love, family duty, loss, and responsibility.
Written as a series of letters from the narrator, Wyatt Hillyer, to his twenty-one-year-old-daughter, Marlais, Howard Norman’s What Is Left The Daughter (Mariner, $13.95) tells a rich, dramatic story set in the Canadian Maritimes during World War II as German U-boats stalked Canadian shipping. After the tragic and surprising deaths of his parents, Hillyer moves in with his aunt, uncle, and cousin in a small town. When a young German scholar moves to town, amid the fear and suspicion brought on by the war, allegiances are tested, and love, lust, and jealousy fuel a series of events that can’t be undone. Norman’s unerring sense of character, language, pacing, and plot make this an unforgettable novel.
When a polio outbreak takes its toll on a Newark neighborhood in 1944, playground director Bucky Canter is helpless to protect the kids he has dedicated his life to looking after. Unable to enlist in the armed forces because of poor eyesight, Canter commits his energies to the boys of his neighborhood by coaching, training, and setting a good example. Frustrated at his inability to stop the plague, he leaves the city and follows his girlfriend to a summer camp in the Poconos, but he can’t escape the disease. Philip Roth’s NEMESIS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26) is a look back at a part of our history overshadowed by the Second World War. It’s also a rumination on the body and its limitations, regardless of a person’s actions.