Thursday, March 7, 2013

Book 12 of 52: A Good American by Alex George

What do you say about the book of someone who's come to Thanksgiving dinner? Well good things, since Alex George's A Good Americanis a good read (and I'm glad I can say that because otherwise, this would be an awkward blog post).

George is the friend of a friend who came to a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by me and my now ex-boyfriend two years ago. A Good American was about to be published, and George was already earning excellent advance reviews. I was going to buy a copy, though he said don't do that as he wanted to thank us for our hospitality by sending a signed copy of the book.

That never happened (for which he has apologized PROFUSELY! and I've made the same oops as an author, too). I was in Tampa last week and stopped at Inkwood Books before heading to St. Pete Beach and there, filed as a staff recommendation, was A Good American.

After DNFing two books while on vacation already, I was relieved to find a good fit with this one, which is about three generations of the Meisenheimer family, starting with Frederick and Jette, who leave Germany because her mother won't let them marry. They establish a new life in Beatrice, Missouri, Frederick bartending and Jette making house (and unhappily so). The book's narrator is James, their grandson, and he tells the story up until he's an old man.

It's a family tale, and how different generations try to be good Americans, however that shifts and changes as the distance between them and Germany widens with time and two wars against their home country. It's an engaging book, and I'm not surprised it's garnered so much praise and wound up a staff pick at Inkwood (George was also chosen as a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick).

George himself is English, and his mother came to England from New Zealand. He moved to the U.S. because his then-wife is from here, and he's stayed. He writes in the author's note that this idea of being from one place and finding a home in another is on his mind, and it shows in A Good American, even if the countries involved are not part of his background.

I do have one quibble. George tends to use Dickensian-cliff hangers at the ends of sections, even within chapters (Dickins' stories were published in installments, so it beehove him to end each installment with a cliff hanger so readers would buy the magazine next week).

Two examples from A Good American:

"Which was an interesting remark, given what happened next."

"As it happened, at that very moment, Fate was slowly making its way toward Tillman's Wood, wheezing up the steep hill behind our house."

One or two is okay, but the more they're used, the less effective they become.

But that's a minor problem in an otherwise enjoyable read. Bravo, Alex. Since I never got a signed copy, you can buy me a beer next time you're in town.

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