Like We Care
By Tom Matthews
Bancroft Press; $23.95
By Jim Poyser
Matthews’ debut novel is the story of a small-town, teen-ager-led protest that ends up a national phenomenon. Initially envisioned by Todd Nolan, a dweebish high school senior with a savvy sense of the media, the movement is championed by accomplished jock and senior class hero Joel Kasten.
Todd and Joel’s target is a local convenience store, where cigarettes are routinely sold to underaged customers — including Joel, who, one day, encouraged by Todd, decides to kick his tobacco habit. Todd is the acknowledged brains of the outfit and his impassioned descriptions of the exploitation of youth by giant tobacco corporations soon sink into Joel’s relatively thick skull.
Others join, and soon the “We’re not buying this shit” movement is joined by a couple dozen fellow teen-agers. A Jackass-style production crew, traveling the Midwest, hears of the teens’ boycott and arrives, capturing the protest on tape, including its spokesperson, Joel.
Buoyed by the nationwide airing, Joel becomes his own national-scale phenomenon as the “We’re not buying this shit” protest spreads to other small towns.
But the boys, Todd and Joel, have only begun. The next phase of their scheme puts their taciturn, African-American social studies teacher Frank Kolak in the center of their small town’s subtle racist mindset.
Toss in a romantic interest for Joel and Todd, and an Eminem-clone rapper named ScroatM, whose insouciance help stir the soup of Matthews’ fast, funny, smart and occasionally wicked story.
Matthews, who lives in Wauwatosa, Wis., has been a journalist, a screenwriter, film critic and studio publicist. He brings all that experience to bear on Like We Care, shining a tiny light into the dark heart of pop culture’s obsession with marketing and demographics.
By Ronald Tierney
Severn House Mystery; $27.95By Matt Sledge
It’s not often you see a private detective grappling with old age, but that’s the central theme of Ronald Tierney’s fifth Deets Shanahan mystery, Nickel-Plated Soul. Shanahan’s young colleague, the brash Howie Cross, is mysteriously assaulted the day of a planned meeting with newly released convicted murderer Hugh Dart. Dart, once a brilliant young political mastermind, was convicted of killing his ambitious and needy wife 35 years ago. A $200,000 insurance policy he took out on her shortly before her death in an arson seemed to confirm his guilt.
Shanahan is called in, and he winds up being hired by Dart to find his wife. Dart is convinced she still lives, and he’s obsessed with finding her. The motive is neither love nor revenge. Dart just wants his money back. Shanahan is a grizzled old guy who’s beginning to ease off on the tough tactics of a private investigator. But he’s not above breaking into a few apartments and harassing a few codgers. Shanahan and Cross go on a wide-ranging investigative journey, traveling from Chicago to Miami. A complicated web of connections lies before them, with ex-wives, business deals, embezzlement, bribery and a host of other details to untangle. Shanahan’s up to the task, even when his client unexpectedly fires him. Like a true private eye, this only infuriates him into further action. Curiosity is the name of the game.
But it is Shanahan’s psyche, more than Dart’s missing wife, that is the focus of this quest. He’s a 70-year-old battling not only bulky hired goons, but his own memories and aging. Shanahan’s investigation is exciting, but the story is sometimes most interesting when it looks at the banalities of life — from late night talk shows to home-ownership — with a private dick’s eye.
There are spots when it helps to have read the rest of the series. On the whole, though, the story stands by itself. The book is also an Indiana history lesson, with references to the smoke-filled-room politics of the 1960s and the dueling memberships of the Columbia and Athletic Clubs.
Tierney clearly has a love for old-style politics and the under-the-table interactions they encouraged. The book is a winning read, although its pacing is stunted in places. It is best when Tierney lets Shanahan be who he is: an irascible and likable joker. While Cross never fully comes into focus, Maureen, Shanahan’s 40-something paramour, and the old shamus make a charming and unusual couple. Her determination to support her partner ultimately saves the day.
Shanahan isn’t the perfect detective, but his oafishness makes him endearing. In the end, the nickel-plated souls of his prey can’t stand up to his dogged pursuit of the truth.
Editor’s note: Ronald Tierney was NUVO’s original editor-in-chief in 1990.
He’s Just Not That Into You
By Greg Behrendt & Liz Tuccillo
Simon Spotlight Entertainment; $19.95By Teal Schlueter
It’s natural for every woman who hasn’t received that call or who wonders what’s going on in a man’s mind when he becomes incommunicado to try and find some sort of closure. Friends who offer advice must walk a fine line between benevolent and bitchy; that’s where this book enters in. It gives the woman’s point of view through Liz Tuccilo, but it also tactfully gives the man a voice through Greg Behrendt (both of whom have worked on the set of HBO’s Sex and the City).
The book highlights a series of common scenarios (from “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Not Dating You” to “He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Married [and Other Insane Variations of Being Unavailable]”) via letters from women describing their real-life woes. After each letter, the authors pull you back into reality with their no-nonsense way of explaining why the excuses don’t hold water. Tuccillo chimes in with why it’s hard to swallow, chipping in her female two cents, while Behrendt explains what it should look like — minus the lame excuse. Neatly tying up each chapter is a workbook section that helps the reader work through her questions, arriving at her own conclusions.
I think it is inherent for many women to analyze situations and actions — sometimes even over-analyzing. However, He’s Just Not That Into You depicts men as not having an agenda, uncomplicated. Any excuse we come up with can easily be negated with the mantra, “Maybe he’s just not that into you.”
I found this book quite helpful in explaining relationship behavior. When questioning some of my male GenX cohorts, they reluctantly replied that yes, that methodology does sound accurate. For those women who have problems believing that they are beautiful, talented and smart, this book constantly reaffirms this on virtually every page. As well as, yes, they could do better.
Bottom line: It’s a good book. Any woman who wants a straightforward answer on elusive male behavior and who is looking for closure on a vanished relationship should read it. Because, don’t we all have doubts?