Henry James would have admired Diane Johnson's way of sending Americans abroad to confound European manners. He isn't around to write about the bewildering etiquette created by dot-com money, but the author of "Le Divorce" is.
So in L'Affaire, another irresistible book about clashing cultures, she turns loose a young American woman in the midst of French characters intrigued by her fortune. What they don't understand is that back home in Silicon Valley, she made all that money herself.
Bruce Wagner also writes comedies of manners, but his are set in Los Angeles. And they're caustic enough to take the paint off walls, which is why they're so pitilessly funny. In Still Holding, he takes the Hollywood art of name-dropping to a new pinnacle as he explores the spiritual mind-set of the celebrity Buddhist. This book is just sardonic enough to be hilarious, and just serious enough to be devastating.
Wagner's Hollywood couldn't be further removed from the Iowa setting where Dow Mossman's The Stones of Summer begins. If this one sounds familiar, it should: it's a book at the center of a stunning real-life story. A documentary filmmaker named Mark Moskowitz remembered this obscure but well-reviewed 1972 novel, and he made "Stone Reader," about his dogged search to find the author. Mossman was by then folding newspapers for a living. It looked as if his literary career was long over. But the film flagged the attention of Barnes & Noble, which is now republishing the book in hardcover. Here is a happy ending. And for Mossman, it's a new beginning.
When "The Stones of Summer" first appeared, America was still reeling from the Vietnam War. David Maraniss' new multi-faceted history They Marched Into Sunlight explores events in October 1967 that would create profound upheaval for soldiers, protesters and politicians. And pop culture of the late '60s reflected that turmoil. True, this is a book that mentions the Beatles only TWICE-but fearless music icons become our bellwethers in turbulent times.
And sooner or later, each of them gets his own authorized biography.
Happy reading in this new season.
Janet Maslin's fall book picks:
- "Le Divorce," by Diane Johnson
- "Still Holding," by Bruce Wagner
- "They Marched Into Sunlight," by David Maraniss
- "Whatever You Say I Am: The Life and Times of Eminem," by Anthony Bozza
- "The Stones of Summer," by Dow Mossman