A Taipei Night Market Novel
A night market food stall owner becomes involved in a double homicide in Ed Lin’s novel Death Doesn’t Forget.
Jing-nan just wants his food stall to be successful. If he could stop finding himself connected to homicide investigations, that would be perfect. The notoriety has helped his business, but it also brought him into the crosshairs of Captain Huang, the head of the precinct, who oversees the night market district. Captain Huang has it out for Jing-nan: he’s determined to prove that his involvement in previous cases was nefarious, rather than happenstance. He catches Jing-nan on a security camera leaving the flophouse of a recently murdered petty criminal and, thinking he’s got him, roughs him up a bit to get him to confess. The dead petty criminal’s connection to Jing-nan via his girlfriend’s mother is a bonus. When Captain Huang turns up dead in an alley, all eyes turn to Jing-nan.
The mystery takes a back seat to considerations of family and social ties. Taiwanese culture and spirituality are present throughout: as Jing-nan is persuaded to honor the dead, a pivotal scene takes place in a Buddhist temple. Political and racial tensions also play a role—in particular, the racism affecting Taiwanese Indigenous people, and the lingering enmity between nationalists and communists. This social backdrop provides fertile ground for character development.
In spite of the beat-by-beat narration, the book keeps its action moving. When not focused on clearing his name, Jing-nan tries to navigate the murky waters between his girlfriend and her estranged mother. As the book turns toward discovering and catching the actual murderer, the character work pays off, and the fun intensifies.
Death Doesn’t Forget is a mystery novel that balances growth and intrigue with an exploration of a busy city that sees everything.
DONTANá MCPHERSON-JOSEPH (June 27, 2022)
Everything You Need to Know about Art in a Dozen Masterpieces
Art historian Noah Charney describes himself as “a proponent of making art feel accessible to anyone who is willing to meet it halfway,” and The 12-Hour Art Expert accomplishes that mission via an anecdotal, conversational approach that explains art history and various artistic movements in an informative, fun manner.
Charney covers ample material in clever ways. One chapter covers thirty “isms” (like romanticism, impressionism, and neoclassicism) from the ancient world through to contemporary times, introducing a useful cheat sheet with representative works. Another walks through the development of sculpture, from the ancient Venus of Willendorf (made at least twenty-five thousand years ago) through to Egyptian and Greek examples, the Renaissance, and contemporary art. Other chapters explain art techniques, materials, iconography, and the role of symbolism in interpreting paintings. While only a small portion of the total art discussed, the images included in the text are strong examples of these aspects of art.
And the book goes beyond art history to incorporate Charney’s specific expertise in the history of art theft, with an informative overview that discusses both famous heists and the processes used to determine a work’s authenticity. There’s a fascinating discussion of how advanced technology led to better restoration techniques, including identifying portions of paintings added later, or original artists’ contributions obscured by subsequent restorations. There’s even a timely discussion of what NFTs and other trends in art might mean for the future.
Throughout, Charney allows that specific pieces or styles might not appeal to every art appreciator. Still, The 12-Hour Art Expert is intended to serve as an introduction for anyone who wants to learn more about art, and it covers a wealth of information in a genial, accessible way.
JEFF FLEISCHER (June 27, 2022)
A man mired in his past discovers a promising future in Brad Zellar’s novel Till the Wheels Fall Off.
Matt, a Midwestern kid whose father was killed in Vietnam and whose mother is quiet and impenetrable, finds refuge in the roller rink owned by his stepfather, Russ. Living adjacent to the rink, Matt bonds with Russ through music. When Russ and Matt’s mother divorce, Matt’s long, troubled journey toward adulthood begins. Complicating matters are his issues with ADHD and hypnagogia, a kind of hallucinatory state between wakefulness and sleep. Matt recounts formative events from his past; as links to that history re-emerge in his life, he finds glimpses of hope in the present.
The writing is hypnotic and memorable. Its imagery is stunning, and its descriptions are evocative. Much of the good that comes Matt’s way is due to the kindness of extended family members, along with a bit of luck. Matt, in dealing with his physical and emotional setbacks, survives long enough to benefit from their goodwill, serving as a reminder that it’s okay to ask for, and accept, help.
The book is rooted in nostalgia. Much of the story takes place in an era absent of cell phones; at one point, Matt says, “I suppose some people—most people—dream of the future, but my dreams are almost exclusively of the past.” Elsewhere, he expands on the bonds that music can forge, along with its ability to spark curiosity and send listeners in new, unplanned directions. The book also serves that function, entertaining and enticing with its details of Russ and Matt’s extensive playlists, along with references to poems and other works.
Till the Wheels Fall Off is an affecting, introspective novel that embraces the beauty of memory and the power of resilience.
PETER DABBENE (June 27, 2022)
A Memoir of Translation and Discovery
Ivy Lodge is a resonant memoir that looks beyond the “opulent facade” of a mid-century family’s stately home.
Built in the 1800s, Linda Murphy Marshall’s childhood home bore the distinguished name “Ivy Lodge.” In 1960, Marshall’s father purchased this suburban St. Louis Tudor home for a “bargain” price: wealthier white residents were leaving the neighborhood to avoid racial integration. Though the home provided ample space for Marshall and her siblings, it was also somewhat drafty and dysfunctional, leading to a “somber spirit.” Family displays of affection were infrequent; happier moments were undermined by Marshall’s father’s angry outbursts and her mother’s passive-aggressive tendencies.
The book exhibits empathy for Marshall’s parents, noting that her father grew up during the Great Depression and had little opportunity to enjoy his own childhood. Marshall’s mother fulfilled conventional expectations as a busy, resourceful housewife, yet she also seemed to harbor secret resentments about the demands and limitations of her role. And because she was exuberant by nature, Marshall herself was often rebuked for being too needy. Her mother mocked and criticized her for gaining weight; both parents belittled Marshall’s later accomplishments.
Going through each room of Ivy Lodge following her parents’ deaths, the book represents a singular process of healing. Then married and with her own family, Marshall chose to “rescue” less valuable items from the house that held personal significance. Using her skills as a multilingual translator, she found new meaning in these quirky objects—“stand-ins” for the emotions her parents “didn’t—or couldn’t—express.”
Many of Marshall’s memories still carry a certain pain, even with the passing of time. However, in her collective portrait of Ivy Lodge and those who lived within it, she creates a compassionate whole, narrated in the acquired language of forgiveness.
MEG NOLA (June 27, 2022)
On the Road in the American West
The Devil’s Highway combines Joan Myers’s photographs with a gritty short story by William deBuys to evoke the sweeping, inhospitable open road.
Constructed in 1926, US Route 191, formerly known as Route 666 and nicknamed “The Devil’s Highway,” once ran from Utah to the Mexico border. Dozens of black-and-white images capture its desert scenery and derelict buildings. There are artifacts of the road, including abandoned cars, billboards, and statues. There are images of old-fashioned diners and Native American memorabilia. One memorable Texas composition blends nature with culture, with cacti in the foreground, and main street facades behind.
Myers remembers falling for this portion of the American West during her childhood summers in Colorado. But she’s seen rural life deteriorate as small farms and stores failed, leaving ghost towns behind. Her work, now archived at the Briscoe Center for American History, preserves “a timeless moment of longing and despair.”
In this repeat collaboration, “the journey is more personal and more elegiac.” And in the accompanying story “Devil’s Highway,” a morality tale first published in 1992, George Cross, a government land manager, picks up two hitchhikers whom he soon realizes are illegal Mexican immigrants. Duty wrestles with empathy as he gets mired in the men’s lives.
The story and images alike are as beautiful as they are bleak in The Devil’s Highway.
REBECCA FOSTER (June 27, 2022)