“Other People’s Love Affairs” by D. Wystan Owen

Genre:         Literary FictionOther People Affairs
Publisher:    Algonquin Books
Pub. Date:   August 21, 2018

My first thought, once I finished the last page of this connected short story collection, was that the author, D. Wystan Owen, manages to pen a book to the Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby.” With its lyrics of, “All the lonely people, Where do they all come from?  All the lonely people, Where do they all belong?”  This mostly brilliant ten story collection follows the lives of characters who live in the same coastal English village. All are unhappy.  All are desperately lonely.  All are disappointed in life.

The title story is one of the weakest tales in the collection.   Two women have lived together for twenty years.  Neither the village people nor the reader knows if they are lovers or simply friends.  No matter, they are passionately devoted to one another and inseparable.  After the death of one, the other learns that years ago the deceased had a male lover.  The living companion is devastated to learn this news.  She is left feeling that she never really knew her partner at all.  Reading of their longtime relationship is glorious.  The tale is filled with pieces of the fine and playful life that they made together.  The ending is a bit melodramatic.

“Housekeeper” is the stellar story in the collection.   An unmarried woman cares for an old man with dementia.  From the beginning, when she moves into his home, she is grateful that she is no longer alone in the world.  She is pleased when he mistakes her for his deceased wife.   She encourages his confusion and pretends to be the wife.  She now feels that she too can say she has been in a marriage.  She is very loving towards him.  She is an endearing character.  And yes, to be pleased with this fictional marriage and other actions I cannot mention for fear of a spoiler, also makes her very creepy.

Owen frequently changes voices within a story, allowing the reader different interruptions of the characters. This can clearly be seen in “The Patroness.”   A widow of a wealthy man hosts elaborate bi-weekly luncheons to make herself feel special among the once-famous.  At such an event, she purposely seats next to one another an elderly, once-beautiful film goddess and a young male student.  This reviewer was be surprised by the malice intentions of the generous hostess.  There is darkness and devastation in the storylines, but there is also a dual sweetness to the characters that lingers.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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“Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man” by Lynn Vincent, Sara Vladic

Genre:         Historical Non-FictionIndy
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster Canada
Pub. Date:  July 10, 2018

If you did not see the movie “Jaws” (1975) you missed the actor Robert Shaw’s iconic scene describing the experiences the boys/men endured during WWII when their ship the USS Indianapolis was sunk by enemy fire. They spent four horrific days in shark-infested waters watching each other being eaten alive.  The late actor will put more goose bumps on you than my words ever could: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=204&v=u9S41Kplsbs.

In this book, you will find that there is so much more than just sharks to this historical non-fiction that reads like a fictional page-turner.  If you are unfamiliar with the worst sea disaster in U.S. naval history, you may not be aware that the ship was on a secret mission to deliver some of the components for the atomic weapons that were used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.   Albert Einstein makes an early appearance since he signed a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt urging that the bomb be built.  However, he also repeatedly warned the world about the dangers of nuclear weapons and its impact on the human race.  In 1954 he wrote another letter “I made one great mistake in my life…recommending that the atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them first.”  Einstein’s conflicted feelings pave the way for the rest of the roller coaster ride the reader will be on before the book’s ending.

The beginning chapters alternate between the Japanese Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto, who torpedoed and sunk the ship, and the “Indy’s” Captain Charles B. McVay III.  This writing style gives the reader a ringside seat into their surprising similar thoughts and emotions, making one feel as if they knew them both personally.  The same is true (on the American side) of the ship’s crew.
men on IndyOne of this reviewer’s favorites is Adolfo “Harpo” Celaya.  A Mexican American who lied about his age and enlisted in the navy at 17.   It is heartbreaking to read just how many teenagers and young men in their early twenties served on the USS Indianapolis.  And that out of the 1,196 men aboard only 317 survived.  In 2016 the U.S. post office in Florence, Arizona, Harpo’s hometown, was renamed in his honor.  How could I not mention this fact when in 2018 there is much anti-Mexican rhetoric coming from the White House?

When McVay and his men were finally rescued from the waters, McVay’s nightmare was just beginning.  He went on trial with the charge of failing to zigzag, which caused the ship to sink when it was hit.  Many ships were lost in combat during World War II but McVay was the only captain to be court-martialed for the loss of his ship.  The pressure for his trial came from the deceased’s families.  To add salt to the families’ wounds, the men died immediately before the end of the war.  Many received the dreaded telegram while watching other Americans celebrate in the streets.  The families, as well as the press, were out for the captain’s blood as if they were great white sharks themselves.  If not a naval person, the trial scenes could get dull from the technical and naval jargon.  However, the authors manage to have most of the dialogue reading like a suspenseful courtroom drama, complete with a jaw-dropping witness who happened to be the Japanese commander Hashimoto.

The surviving members of the crew claimed that their captain did nothing wrong and was innocent.  In the 1990s they still hadn’t stopped trying to clear his name.  In 1998, they received help from a very usual source—a sixth-grade male student who researched the sinking of the Indy for his history fair project.  Once the men learned of this kid they jumped onboard to help him.   This led to a United States Congressional investigation that ended with the captain’s exoneration.   Interestingly enough, one of the co-authors of this book, Sara Vladic, was just a 13-year-old schoolgirl when she learned of the USS Indianapolis and was captivated by all of the ship’s history.  She wanted to see the story made into a movie.  She figured some grown-up eventually would.  In 2015, Vladic made the documentary, “USS Indianapolis: The Legacy.”

In this meticulously researched book, 25% of its pages are in the endnotes.  It is extensively based on interviews with the survivors.   Here I felt was a potential trial problem.  The men themselves say that after days in the shark-infested waters there were widespread hallucinations.  One could argue that their memories of the actual sinking were no longer intact.  Furthermore, many of them had such severe post traumatic stress that they, like their Captain, committed suicide.  But, after reading this book, how can anyone ever again wonder about McVay’s innocence?  You will cheer that the “50-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man” is finally over.   Still, it is a bittersweet vindication.  This is a gut-wrenchingly hard story to read.  Expect to feel a strong personal connection to the men from the re-telling of the tragedy.   Once finished, it might be hard to process your own roller coaster emotions.   Still, this is a book that should be read.  An epic tale in American history.

I received this Advance Review Copy (ARC) novel from the publisher at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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