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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, June 17, 2001

Master Storytellers Weave Intriguing Tales in Print

This week, I had the privilege of seeing a storyteller in action at McCollough Library. Her name was Sharyn McCrumb, a native of Appalachia and an advocate for the region. Not since the local appearance of Ray Bradbury a few years ago had I been impressed with how important these storytellers are. They tap into something ancient and fundamental to our consciousness and keep alive our past, as well as warning us about the future.

All the authors reviewed here are master storytellers. Their plot-driven books want to make you keep reading to find out what happens next; and when it happens, it just might mean more than you thought it did.

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane (Morrow, 2001).

One of Stephen King's favorite mystery writers, Lehane writes in a voice that's streetwise and straight from the heart. The emotion he generates is palpable.

In this story, he reunites three boyhood friends as adults. They are all involved in a murder case in which one of the friends is the investigating police officer.

The second friend, Jimmy Marcus, is the father of the victim. Like HBO's Tony Soprano, even though he is a criminal, you cannot help but admire him.

The third friend, meanwhile, is a suspect in the case.

The wives of these male characters are finely drawn as well, so women will probably enjoy this mystery as much as men will.

Blood Lure by Nevada Barr (Putnam's, 2001).

Barr, who has worked for years as a forest ranger, just keeps getting better. Each of her mystery novels is set in a different national park and filled with appreciative descriptions of the outdoors. Because she wants to protect what she loves, she is not afraid to remind tourists how insensitive they are to the welfare of the environment.

Usually it is man who disturbs the paradise of her detective, ranger Anna Pigeon, but this time, it appears that a grizzly bear may be the culprit. The mother of a summer volunteer in the park is murdered, and the signs point in the bear's direction.

Reading this is like a summer vacation in Glacier National Park with your own personal forest ranger at your side.

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperCollins, 2000).

Like Barr, Kingsolver, is an environmentalist and a feminist. In this book, her male characters either die or are environmentally unsound. Her women are strong, sexy, independent and in touch with their bodies and their natural surroundings.

The author was trained as a biologist, and her background is apparent here. There is much description and explanation of the eastern Kentucky setting. The three storylines involve the conflicts of three pairs of men and women, and the women win every time.

John Adams by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

McCullough is a vastly popular historian and is well- known for his award-winning biography of Harry Truman and his narrations on public television. This new biography will be especially welcome to his many admirers, and they will not be disappointed. It is just as good as his book on Truman, though some readers may feel that Adams is a less interesting subject.

What Adams may have lacked in charisma, though, he made up for in honesty, steadfastness, courage, patriotism, and intelligence. He also chose his wife well, and Abigail Adams is a very strong presence in the book. She is revealed to be a strong abolitionist and feminist, as well as an excellent writer. McCullough takes full advantage of the pair's copious correspondence.

The author initially wanted to write a dual biography of Adams and Jefferson but he soon came to prefer the solid intelligence of Adams to the shifty genius of Jefferson. McCullough is 67 and is working on another book on eighteenth century America.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.