America Fantastica by Tim O’Brien is unlike anything else I’ve read by this master. Satire in the style of Pynchon, the novel is about “mythomania”, the pandemic of lying that has infected the United States (eventually impeding efforts to combat another pandemic, Covid-19). The main character, Boyd Halverson, is a liar (in an attempt to escape his family), inventing numerous false accomplishments that embellish his resume as a journalist. When he is exposed by his father-in-law, a corrupt capitalist who fears that Boyd will cause trouble for him, his life is ruined. But that’s just the set-up. What follows is a crazy road trip in which Boyd is determined to exact revenge of sorts, and a large cast of other nutjobs weave in and out of his efforts. The book is crazy, and I worried that it wouldn’t hold together, but it does. In many places, it’s hilariously funny, but it’s also addressing a serious problem—the lies that Trump and others tell us, the whacko conspiracy theories that Q-Anon spreads, the disinformation we hear from some in the media. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America by Hugh Eakin is seriously one of the best books I’ve ever read (although I listened to the audiobook). What a fascinating story, in which Picasso and other 20th Century artists benefitted from two champions. First, a New York lawyer named John Quinn was convinced that contemporary European art needed an American audience. He built his own collection, overfilling his Manhattan apartment, and arranged shows. He made some attempts to create a museum of modern art, but without success. After his death, although his collection was disbursed, other art patrons did create the Museum of Modern Art and hired as its director a very young man, Alfred Barr, who had seen one of Quinn’s exhibitions and was similarly convinced of the movement’s importance. While the book is focused on their efforts to bring Picasso’s work to America, they aided many other artists throughout the first half of the century. It’s an amazing, gripping story.
Tom Lake by Ann Patchett is a pleasant enough read, although from the title you might think it’s about a person named Tom Lake. Instead, it’s about a place of that name in Michigan, where the main character Lara was an actress in summer stock as a much younger woman. Now, it’s early in the Covid-19 pandemic, and Lara and Joe’s three daughters are home from college isolating with them. Although they’re all busy harvesting cherries on the family farm, Lara is telling the girls the story of her life, how she first came to play the part of Emily in a production of “Our Town”, how that led her to be an actress for a time, including doing summer stock with an actor who became famous. There’s much drama in Lara’s relationship with that actor that unfolds over the course of the book, but the story also reveals how she met and eventually fell in love with Joe. I wanted the novel to have more depth, but it never did, although because of my interest in Thornton Wilder (he was a brilliant writer and dramatist), I enjoyed the book.