The essence of “The Paragon Hotel [Lyndsay Faye/G.P. Putnam’s Sons/432pgs], shows a texture of different lives being lived in the essence of a period piece with a very relevant social message. Above all, within the structure, Alice “Nobody”, who grew up as the daughter of a sex worker in 1920s Harlem, shows an interesting dichotomy of structures. The texture of the gangster landscape and of innocence lost serves strictly as the set up and not the rule of thumb. Nobody knows who she is inherently at the get go and what she is good at. Her life was never meant to follow that of her mother but to disappear into the ether with a sense of knowing. It is her circumstances and her strengths that allow her to evolve within the idea of who she could be which is inherently a spy for the mob. The balance of the story teeters from her old life in Harlem and what caused her to escape under physical duress on a train to Oregon to the rightly named Paragon Hotel, where everything is perceived from altered angles. The social upheaval there gives an interesting parallel to her situation but in an all together different perception of tolerance and understanding. All the people within this structure are not necessarily good people but they are creatures of circumstance, Blossom Fontaine is one of the most interesting parallels considering her backstory. Alice ends up being the unwanted resident of an all black hotel in Portland undergoing its own sort of intrinsic social battle and persecution. The author gives a view into the racial strife suffered by the residents there despite the location being in the Pacific Northwest. The intrinsic nature of the KKK, its perceived influence and the balance of behavior because of different progressions of time especially involving the wife of the chief of police: Evy and a young colored boy: Davy who goes missing, create the the conflict and propelling nature of the story. However it is the intrinsic nature of the relationships of Alice and their psychological structure, specifically with her childhood friend Nicolo in Harlem in direct relation to her burgeoning friendship with Blossom, a cabaret performer that really make the story work in addition to her gangster guardian: The Spider, who both creates and destroys her despite his best intentions in the same breath. The different personalities in the Paragon Hotel from the cook to the elevator operator to the head of the house also paint a very vivid portrait because the puzzle pieces don’t fit together at all yet they still operate as a whole. Even Alice’s guardian angel in Portland, Max, a lieutenant from the 1st World War turned porter, who in a matter of fate saves her despite the danger to his own person (in saving a white woman who is undeniably in pain in an arena where it might have been better left alone) parallels a similar structure which propelled “Mudbound”, a Netflix film set in the same period starring Jason Mitchell and Carey Mulligan. Ultimately “The Paragon Hotel” is a novel about identity and how one changes to fit a certain idea yet the truth of the personality always creeps through to the surface,’
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of the progression of a life is an individual journey for each person. But the adventure needs to have a voice. And one that evolves within that structure. With “Bittersweet Brooklyn” [Thelma Adams/Lake Union Publishing/352pgs], the author has created a slice in time that is both nostalgic and heartbreaking, modern but yet old fashioned, tragic and yet oddly hopeful in its protagonist. Thelma grows up in Jewish family where she was the daughter that was a miracle but ultimately became a reminder of pain. She never knew her father who died before she was born. As a result her older sister takes control of the family to protect her mother but loathes her sister as if she is the cause of all their problems. The family dynamics especially set against the aspect of the late 1910s where the aspect of war swirls with the industrial revolution. Add the elements of Prohibition and the gangster era in NY with the focus here more on Williamsburg and what the reader gets is a dynamic vista view. That backdrop most of the time doesn’t intrude on Thelma’s world but its feeling is imprinted vividly. Thelma’s psychological perceptions are simple but so rich in many ways especially in her interaction with her brothers Abie and Louis. But the feeling is so much more. Like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, the world feels lived in and as Thelma grows older and through them, one gets a sense of her travails. The different elements of perception are elements that are both internal and external but definitively reflects a time and a thought pattern while also questioning the inherent nature of behavior, even her own. Her life is not wrapped up in a distinct bow but the way she interacts with its from the interstate on with an Italian family and the eventual rebuke of a romance because her family is “not right” to her whirlwind marriage that was doomed from the start but revels in the love it once had. Even in the ending structure, the beauty is in the lyricism of the life lived. Without giving it away, it has that classic element while being smart, romantic, inherently intelligent, ruthless and blindingly human. It is a gem.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of a kidnapping story is finding the basis by which you care for the characters. If a sense of loss or tension is not created then the progression of the narrative won’t work. In “Passenger 19” [Ward Larsen/Oceanview/386pgs], everything seems to work well on all counts. This is helped by the character of Jammer Davis who, like someone like Dirk Pitt gets his humor right and could distinctly be made eventually into a franchise character on film. The basis of the story in “Passenger 19” is that our man Jammer is an airline crash investigator for the NTSB. When a plane goes mysteriously down in Colombia, he quickly realizes through his friend and sometimes employer at the CIA, that his daughter might be one of the victims. Jammer heads down south of the border but he begins to uncover details, especially being helped both by an unscheduled G3 flights and quick satellite photos, that makes him realize that something is going on behind the scenes. The structure of the book works well because it operates on the slow build so you realize what Jammer is doing. A lot of it is integrated on the details of the crash with Bogota as the backdrop. It all whittles down with a bit of humor which allows the progression to not become downtrodden. what tends to function best is that the action is punctuated and not without reason. There are also quick blips back to the U.S. for quick story points. This makes the story extremely filmable from an adaptation standpoint. The crux of most of the story lies in a why the plane was actually deliberately crashed in the first place. The reveal of those details actually works pretty well in that it involves a cover up and Secret Service protection. Eventually our hero becomes the focus of trying to be pushed off the investigation but it is his daughter at stake. And while that story point is the most cliche, it also makes the most logical sense. The final integration of some DEA guys to make the circle complete as they take on an isolated Colombian stronghold makes good logical sense and provides an adequate climax. Everybody gets what they want and even among the returning factors, Jammer gets a nice epilogue that solidifies the character. Despite the characterization being in the vein of a Bruce Willis or Wesley Snipes vehicle, it does qualify as good entertainment.
By Tim Wassberg