By Robert Kurson | [3 stars]
REVIEW BY MICHELLE GREEN
By any measure, California inventor Michael May, 53, is an extraordinary character: Blinded at 3 by an explosive chemical, he became an Olympic skier and CIA analyst before making medical history in 2000 as one of only about 20 people to regain sight after a lifetime of Braille and guide dogs. But the stem-cell transplant surgery that transforms him is just the beginning; as Kurson reveals in this moving account, living with a flood of new images puts May to the test. Like others who have emerged from the darkness, he finds himself at risk of depression; when he learns that he’ll never process visual stimuli normally—he can’t recognize people by their faces, for instance—he half-longs for the security of blindness. But grit and creativity carry him through. Though the science is fascinating, it’s scenes like the tender moments in which May first sees his wife’s body that resonate: He inspects every inch of skin, touching her only with his eyes. “I can see the hollow of your throat,” he tells the woman to whom he has been married for 19 years. “Remind me to tickle that later.”
A Good and Happy Child
By Justin Evans | [3.5 stars]
REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT
Growing up in a Virginia college town, George Davies was neither good nor happy. As an adult, he fears his phobia about holding his newborn son stems from a ghastly period of his own childhood that followed the puzzling, sudden death of his father, an academic and religious mystic. At a psychiatrist’s urging, George attempts to purge himself of his lingering childhood torment by recording the events that happened during his sixth-grade year; those “notebooks” make up the bulk of this satisfying, suspenseful first novel. Evans has included a relatively uninteresting subplot about George’s crumbling marriage, but young George’s intriguing story—Is he crazy? Or out-and-out possessed?—unbalances the reader right up to the book’s deliciously chilling end.
The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
By Michael Chabon | [3.5 stars]
REVIEWED BY KYLE SMITH
Fans of Chabon’s marvelous books—like ’95’s Wonder Boys—have waited seven years since his last full-length novel for adults, and they’ll be pleased that he remains soulful yet verbally dazzling in this arch comic mystery. The premise is that after World War II, the Jewish homeland was located not in Israel but where FDR once said it might go: Alaska. That’s where a wretched detective of today investigates a murder in a fleabag hotel. The victim was a miracle worker, maybe even the Messiah. As a whodunit, the novel is a bit muddled. But its ripe language and intriguing commentary on Jewishness make it more than worthwhile.
By David Talbot | [4 stars]
REVIEWED BY JONATHAN DURBIN
Former Salon editor Talbot’s riveting account of the Kennedy Administration is heavy drama: CIA spooks as the bad guys, Latin revolutionaries holding the keys to peace and—despite what he said in public—Bobby’s secret wish to investigate JFK’s assassination. Talbot humanizes the Kennedy brothers too. At one point, when the situation with the Soviet Union was at its darkest, Jack told his brother, “‘I want to get off.’… ‘Get off what?’ Bobby asked him. ‘Get off the planet.'” Talbot argues that good government comes down to compassion and back-door diplomacy. His brilliant journalism shows the Kennedys had a genius for both.