Read the first short (very short) story last night. It knocked my socks off. Legendary Bradbury from 1952, writing about 2052. When I read collections like this, I usually allow some time bewteen stories to let them "settle in."
I've relished most of the books I've read by this author. This one is pretty good, too. I think what gets me on his novels is the way he's able to portray deep emotional connections between people. Maybe that's why his work is often characterized as "chick books." I don't know. I've always looked forward to his next release, though.
But there was something about this one, as I told another GR friend who asked about whether she should buy the hard cover, that keeps me from feeling quite as good about this one as with, say, Prince of Tides, or Beach Music.
Yeah, he seems to always want to make it about dysfunctional families—often depicted in the extreme as in The Great Santini. This one is no different in that regard. Almost from the first page we learn how Leo King, the main character through whom we see everything that happens, found his older, almost-worshipped, and perfect brother after he horribly took his own life for no apparent reason. This sent the remaining family (Leo and his parents) into a hellish life they couldn't quite make work without a huge amount of denial. That coupled with the fact their mother never quite warmed up to Leo put enormous pressures on him as a young teen. If it weren't for his saint-like father, it's doubtful Leo would have made it to adulthood himself.
The story takes place in Charleston, one of the most beautiful cities on the planet in my estimation, and almost a main character in the story. The Catholic Church plays a strong background role as well. Starting in the late 1960s and traveling up through the late 80s, we see all of the strife of forced integration and the backlash that erupted as experienced by a small group of unlikely friends, all of whom came together around the extraordinary character that we see develop in Leo King after spending time in a mental hospital and being wrongly convicted as a drug distributor.
And this is where I had some problems. Leo turns out to be just a little too good to be true. He does things for other people that are just hard to believe. His empathy and ability to forsake his own needs for others is almost Christ-like. It's all just a little over the top for me.
But it's a good book. Those who like Conroy's work will enjoy this one as well.