Book Reviews

From Indiana to Italy

Andy Jacobs Jr.

The Stonecutter's Aria

By Carol Faenzi

Aperto Books; $16.95

Marble and music are made of beauty, and when they are combined with nimble and inspired fingers to dance across a computer keyboard the result is a rhapsodic and delicious book.

Those fingers belong to our highly talented Hoosier friend Carol Faenzi. She is the great-granddaughter of a family patriarch, Aristide, who brought his stone carving and opera tenor genius from Italy to Indiana on a lark, but in the manner of The Man Who Came To Dinner, stayed to grace us in general and his pretty great-granddaughter in particular.

Carrara; that was the home town in the old country, the place of fascinating people and delightful stories of the past quietly waiting to be mined from local memories by the restless and determined mind of our fluent "in English and Italian" author. She devoted a lot of time, travel and energy to bringing us The Stonecutter's Aria. (Aperto Books, 1-800-345-6665, www.thestonecuttersaria.com or Amazon.com.)

There was and, by some accounts, for centuries will be something else to mine at Carrara from the quarries of the Tuscan hills, white Italian marble from which statues of worldwide enchantment have been carved by masters. Aristide, as the amateur trainee in Italy, cut his teeth on carving the marvelous marble, but by the time he was a master, it was Indiana limestone.

The lark the progenitor planned was one thing, including shipboard hardship and struggles for adaptation to the miracle of America. At times, however, his descendant Carol Faenzi's life has been less than a lark. She has survived the scourge of arbitrary subjugation and humiliation from an authoritarian religious sect. But, as Shakespeare tells us, "Sweet are the uses of adversity." And from her crucible, Faenzi has been graced with greater wisdom, patience and eloquence. A pearl reborn of painful irritation.

Let's face it, some family biographies can be pretty boring; this one is anything but. It is an excursion from Indiana to Italy and back with genuine laughs and tears along the way. Among Faenzi's many gifts is the gift of printed gab. She is a Technicolor storyteller. And for readers who care about such things, her nearly flawless grammar is a treat. So get a bag of apples and curl up to a fall fireplace and be regaled; read Carol Faenzi's The Stonecutter's Aria.

Faenzi will be signing her books at The Indiana Historical Society on Sunday, Dec. 4 from noon to 4 p.m.

Indiana-based

Rita Kohn

Platinum Canary

By Ronald Tierney

NY & London: Severn House; $28.95

This sixth Deets Shanahan Mystery adds a clutch of unsavory characters to the familiar, endearing cast of regulars. It's another page-turner, this time with politics, power and scientific research commanding Shanahan's unique adroitness in upsetting a seemingly cut-and-dry case.

Sundry strippers and one aspiring recording artist enter and exit and hover in the wings. Ron Tierney interweaves complications on numerous personal fronts, with mounting tension between Indianapolis police officers and private investigators in pursuit of a missing person wearing a radiant yellow diamond in a classic Tiffany platinum setting.

We travel with Shanahan into a tangle of Indianapolis and San Francisco locations. Swipes against Indianapolis media pepper the dialogue. Based on the concluding heartwarming domestic turn of events, aficionados of crusty Shanahan can only speculate on further exotic secondary locations for the Indy-based private eye.

Ron Tierney, former editor of NUVO, is an Indy native now living and writing in San Francisco.

Rose City: A Memoir of Work

By Jean Harper

Minneapolis: Mid-List Press; $16 paper

This gutsy memoir is a homily to the power of manual labor to ground a person in transition and turmoil. As Jean Harper masters the intricacies of growing and harvesting roses in the then-such-largest facility - G. Hill in Richmond, Ind. - she equally comes to know and learns to love the people for whom such hourly-wage toil is all to which they aspire, either by circumstance or lack of motivation.

Harper is a deft observer of human nature. She writes sparingly, creating portraits through visage and activity: "Just after 6 in the morning, every morning of the week, the drift of rose cutters into the greenhouse begins. ... There is Lil: almost 60, a short, conscientiously cheerful born-again Christian. There is Eddie: hair to waist, already one joint up on the day, squinting in the dim morning light." Against the backdrop of this crew of 30 are the "others," the people who don't have to buy the dented cans, after-expiration date hamburger meat, past-prime vegetables and fruit. Fully accepted, no questions asked, by the greenhouse crew, the story with the "others" is in stark contrast.

In the early 1970s, Jean Harper became "the other woman," a former student who divorced her husband to travel from Concord, Mass., to live with her former professor, who left his wife and family to make his life with her. Sans steamy sexual scenes, this story pulls you in and leaves you with an embrace of humanity.

Novel poetics

Jim Powell

A good book of poetry usually becomes in some way "novelistic." The contents and order of the poems suggest a coherence of character based on the author's mood, his or her surroundings and interests, and the subtle plotting of the story of a life. But when a collection gathers work from across a long period of the poet's career, the book may be hard to bring together. Three such collections of poetry released in the past 12 months by Central Indiana women offer substantial work that literary Hoosiers should both appreciate and enjoy. Each book fulfills the author's cohesive impulse, its substance deepening through the journey across its pages.

Barbara Koons' Night Highway (Cloudbank Books, $12.95) reminisces from a grounded Ohio childhood, through a failed marriage to other losses and recoveries, and finally discerns life's circle in caring for the mother. Early on, Koons concludes "Westbound," a poem about a mobility dream of trains, with "... Father, / I am coming home tonight, / ... before the westbound / leaves the station and you become the brakeman, / waving me down the track." In "On the Night Highway" she mourns the marriage: "I can hear silent bells / rusting in deserted churches, / their naves empty / of all salvation." But life eventually goes on; "Casa Rural" understands that "there's no need to / plant roses, or even grass. / It all outgrows / the boundaries our minds set ... " The poet accepts her mother's decline in "Exposing the Negative": "... she rides / her channel of light to the past, / even as the old moon rocks / the new moon sleeping / in her shining cradle." And so Koons gathers the past into a steady present.

In Evening Chore (DreamSeeker Books, $9), Shari Wagner gathers narratives told by many characters to speak to the whole of her own. Mennonite farm wives and family members locate the author's base; her "Inheritance" is like "... the framework / of a barn that bows to nothing / but the gravity that would claim it." The poems then investigate the difficult juncture of man and nature. In "The Gathering," Wagner sees starlings' flight as "some ancient calligraphy I've forgotten / how to read ..." Another "chapter" gives voice to women, from the ordinary to the mythic, including "Psyche" who says, "I am learning / ... to gather my strength / from the ant, eagle, reeds, even stones." The book's final poems turn to those diminished or dead, but each touched by the grace of memory, as in "The Sunken Gardens": "... If paradise / can be designed from the raw gape / of a quarry. Then the years can only add / their layers of bloom ..." That sense of grace centers Wagner's patient poetic heart.

Elizabeth Weber reveals the center of The Burning House (Main Street Rag Publishing, $7) near its end in "January" when she writes, "I live in a January of my own making ..." The poems search a many-roomed house of loss for the meaning of grief. Weber unearths grief's specter in photographs of war-torn Europe, a recapitulation of family, the death of her brother in Vietnam and her own life. In "Waking Dream: Unemployed Woman Begging, 1930" she interprets that "The river at dawn reminded her of wheat fields / where blackbirds called to each other." She imagines her grandfather's grief over his father's drunken death and his mother's "Silence": "He knew what the night must have looked like / to his mother and knew that waiting / in silence was a kind of joy to be eaten ..." And she imagines the man who shot her brother: "I want his daughter to listen / to him explain how the bullets entered / my brother's body / and exploded, and how what we hold inside / is torn irrevocably apart." But Weber's mourning isn't without redemption. In "Winter" she discovers, "There is salvation in snow; / a divine radiance / ... / Plunge your hands up to your wrists and / feel its heat release ... " In fighting the fire, confronting grief at the risk of losing to it, the poet makes some kind of peace with the losses.

The books are Koons' and Wagner's first and Weber's first in many years. Each of these "novelistic" collections bravely reveals its author's humanity with the interior access only high quality poetry can provide.

Music-related books

Editors note: Music Editor Steve Hammer makes his recommendations for this year's holiday bookshelf.

Saint Morrissey

by Mark Simpson

Touchstone Press; $19.95

Depending on your personal viewpoint, Morrissey is either the patron saint of sexually ambiguous agoraphobics, a brilliant singer and songwriter, the catalyst behind The Smiths or just a British version of Prince minus the musical genius part. This book is written from the perspective of a rabid fan who, lacking interview access with his subject, parses every song lyric and interview for insights into Morrissey's life. Luckily for the author, Morrissey is unrelentingly candid both in his work and in interviews, almost too much so. Peppered with quotes of Morrissey wisdom ("Sex is a waste of good batteries" is but one example), the book evolves into a study more of why Morrissey's fans are as creepily obsessive as the artist himself. Recommended for Smiths fans.

From The Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock

by Clinton Heylin

Chicago Revie Press; $16.95, softcover

An updated and revised version of the 1993 classic, this book uses extensive interviews with punk pioneers such as David Byrne and Patti Smith to tell the story of the birth, ascent and death of old-school American punk. From the grimy halls of CBGB to the backrooms of Cleveland, where Devo was cooking up performance art, this volume tells it all. The Ramones stories alone are priceless, as is the saga of Richard Hell, the troubled leader of the Voidoids.

This Ain't No Disco: New Wave Album Covers

by Jennifer McKnight-Trantz

Chronicle Books; $19.95, softcover

With an appropriately garish neon pink and green cover, this book chronicles the art of 1970s and 1980s punk and pop album covers, when the gaudier a band's makeup was, the more popular they were. One part celebration and one part cautionary tale, the excesses of the era are captured in fine form: Toni Basil's 5-foot Afro; the traffic-sign artwork of Men Without Hats; and the multicolored hair of Cyndi Lauper. While few will make the case that 1980s album art surpasses that of the 1960s, it's fun to see all these old albums being paid tribute. Does anyone really remember the Go-Go's on waterskis on their Vacation album cover, or the horror that was Wham! U.K.'s first album? This book does. If you're passionate about '80s music, this book is a treat. If you're not, it's a trip into the seventh circle of hell.

"One Book, One City" top 25

After receiving 273 book recommendations, the City of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library released Indy's 25, a list of 25 books that includes the book that will ultimately become the final book for the city to read for "One Book, One City."

This year, residents were asked to nominate their favorite page-turner. Indy's 25 is a compilation of all types of page-turners, from thrillers and suspense stories to dramas and love stories.

The books were chosen by reviewing each nomination against pre-determined criteria that included finding books with wide appeal; books that would encourage discussion; and books that contain significant cultural, social or historical issues. Indy's 25, in alphabetical order, are

  • Alive: the Story of the Andes Survivors: Piers Read
  • Bonfire of the Vanities: Tom Wolfe
  • Catch Me If You Can: Frank Abagnale
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime: Mark Haddon
  • The Da Vinci Code: Dan Brown
  • Devil in a Blue Dress: Walter Mosley
  • Eye of the Needle: Ken Follett
  • The Godfather: Mario Puzo
  • Gone with the Wind: Margaret Mitchell
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: J.K. Rowling
  • The Hunt for Red October: Tom Clancy
  • In Cold Blood: Truman Capote
  • Interview with the Vampire: Anne Rice
  • Isaac's Storm: Erik Larson
  • Jaws: Peter Benchley
  • The Kite Runner: Khaled Hosseini
  • Lonesome Dove: Larry McMurtry
  • The Lovely Bones: Alice Sebold
  • Marley & Me: John Grogan
  • One for the Money: Janet Evanovich
  • Postmortem: Patricia Cornwell
  • Rebecca: Daphne Du Maurier
  • The Street Lawyer: John Grisham
  • The Time Traveler's Wife: Audrey Niffenegger
  • Valley of the Dolls: Jacqueline Susann

The final book, Indy's Choice, will be announced to the public in mid-December. Throughout January, residents will be encouraged to participate in book discussions and other "One Book"-related programming at their local libraries and other organizations.

"One Book, One City - Indy's Choice," a collaboration between the City of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, was created to unite the community around reading and discussing one book.

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