Return to Oakpine -- A Novel by Ron Carlson, Viking '13, $25.95, 264 pages, ASIN #0670025070.
Veteran novelist Ron Carlson provides a backdrop for the narrative in his new book, one of five novels in his oeuvre:
"Aside from a new mountain bike store and a hip new coffee shop, not much seems to have changed for decades in Oakpine, WY, as his novel opens in 1999. But roiling in the depths of this sleepy town are the hopes and dreams of its residents, realized and deferred, marriages happy and struggling, friendships lost and regained -- and all of this will come whirling to the surface with the return of Jimmy Brand.
"Thirty years earlier, Jimmy had split town for New York City the second he could after graduation -- and the tragic death of his beloved older brother -- and hasn't looked back since. He's made his way well in the world, becoming a successful novelist, but his homecoming is not a triumphant one. Jimmy Brand is dying."
Carlson's narrative is a poignant story of friendship, growing up, and growing old, as he returns to his home town to rediscover old friends and cogitate on the different directions life has taken them.
Besides Ron Carlson's five novels, he has written five story collections. His fiction has appeared as well in leading American magazines. The author directs the writing program at the University of California at Irvine and lives in Huntington Beach, CA.
Children Are Diamonds -- An African Apocalypse -- A Novel by Edward Hoagland, Arcade '13, $23.95, 232 pages, ASIN #161145834X.
From the dust jacket:
"This is not the Africa of Isak Dinesen or Joy Adamson. This is the Africa of civil wars and tribal massacres, where the Lord's Resistance Army recruits child-soldiers after forcing them to kill their parents and eat their hearts. The aid workers who voluntarily subject themselves to life here are a breed apart.
"Meet Hickey, an American school teacher in his late 30s who'd burned his bridges with the school board and finds himself in Africa as an itinerant aid worker. Assisting an agency in Nairobi, he delivers food and medical supplies to an aid station in Southern Sudan run by Ruth, a middle-aged woman who acts as a nurse, doctor, hospice provider, feeder of starving children, and witness. Ruth is gruff but efficient, and Hickey, who is usually drawn to youth and beauty, is struck by her devotion. When he returns to Nairobi he can't forget what he has seen.
"Violence and chaos in the region increase to fever pitch, and aid workers are being murdered or evacuated. Hickey is asked to save Ruth overland by Jeep, and what happens to them and the children who have joined their flight is searing. In this stunning novel, Hoagland paints an unflinching portrait of human suffering at its worst, and yet amidst that suffering there is hope manifested by humility, sacrifice, and life-affirming friendship."
Author Edward Hoagland has written more than 20 books in 60 years, including travel memoirs, essay collections, and novels. He has traveled the world from Yemen to Antarctica to Assam, writing for noted magazines. He has taught at 10 colleges and universities and now divides his time between Martha's Vineyard and Vermont.