Books

The Fading Light

Stewart O’Nan’s novel “West of Sunset,” based on the final tragic years of F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, took some nerve to write. Would you like to get into the ring with one of the greatest figures in American literature and try to describe what’s going on in his alcoholic…

The road back

Jennifer Matesa, a writer living in Friendship, was a well-​dressed, middle-​class junkie. She didn’t score from shady dealers in back alleys, though. Her supplier was the pharmaceutical industry. Starting about 10 years ago, this self-​described “white soccer mom” got hooked on pain-​killers after seeking legitimate treatment for chronic pain. Vulnerable…

Apocalypse Pittsburgh

Pittsburghers have long boasted that, in the heat of the Cold War, our role as an industrial power made us the Russians’ No. 1 nuclear target. It was a counterweight to our role as a national punchline for being a sooty dump.

Bend of the ‘burgh

Pittsburgh has enjoyed some nice national media buzz in recent years. We’re so livable, we’re hipper than Portland, we’re the next foodie destination. But Pittsburgher Jacob Bacharach’s debut novel could blast the city’s profile into an otherworldly dimension. “The Bend of the World” — a highly enjoyable comedy of modern manners — imagines our…
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Short takes

Speaking Pittsburghese: The Story of a Dialect By Barbara Johnstone Oxford Studies in Sociolinguistics Oxford University Press ($39.95) Linguistics wizard Barbara Johnstone has spent years chronicling the intricacies of the Pittsburgh accent with the same work ethic and good nature that Pittsburghers love to celebrate in themselves. A professor at…

The working man novelist

Dave Newman is a hard-​working and funny writer who embodies an everyman Pittsburgh spirit with all of his ample heart. His latest novels — the brand-​new “Two Small Birds” and “Raymond Carver Will Not Raise Our Children” (2012) — show him succeeding at the goal which his autobiographical protagonist, Dan Charles, declares at one…

Glory daze

In this season of Steelers discontent, Gary Pomerantz offers rattled fans some balm. “Their Life’s Work” is a thoroughly reported and clearly written account of the Steelers’ sensational ‘70s, framed through the “brotherhood” of the players and their interplay with the owners.

The social wasteland

Themes of social, psychological and emotional isolation have been the stock in trade of American writers for as long as the concept of a national literature — and the elusive Great American Novel — have existed, variously attributed to religion, race, politics, drugs, wars, fragmented families, generation gaps and gender issues. Now Michael Bishop,…

The Sentimental Anarchists

by Sandra Levis
Sentimentality is not often associated with terrorism, yet authors Paul and Karen Averich display an unmistakable nostalgia for the so-​called first American Age of Terror in their wildly sympathetic history, “Sasha and Emma: The Anarchist Odyssey of Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman.“

Ecce homo!

by Sandra Levis
Feeling discouraged? Lacking self esteem? Skip the self-​help books and read “Last Ape Standing” instead. Subtitled “The Seven-​Million-​Year Story of How and Why We Survived,” this engaging précis of recent developments in paleoanthropology is imbued with enough enthusiasm for evolution to cheer and inspire even the most miserable Homo sapiens.

A tragedy for the ages

by Sandra Levis
I don’t think anybody can get a handle on what makes me tick… without understanding what I learned from the deep relationship I formed with Virgil,” wrote the late Pennsylvania State University football coach Joe Paterno in his 1997 autobiography, “Paterno: By the Book.” The remark refers without irony to…

Creepy creatures!

by Sandra Levis
Given the prevalence of vampires and werewolves in contemporary culture, one wonders why it has taken so long for them to reach the Pittsburgh area. (We’re a world-​class city, dammit!) With typically gray skies and an abundance of abandoned steelworks and subterranean coal mines, our region possesses a strong Gothic…

Divorce in Morningside

by Sandra Levis
Hallelujah! at last, there is a novel about contemporary divorce that eschews shallow revenge-​fantasy clichés of dream jobs, boytoys and boob jobs in favor of a thoughtful, balanced and gently humorous representation of the end of a marriage. Local author Jane McCafferty laudably transcends melodrama in “First You Try Everything”…

A different Jonas

by Sandra Levis
Well, it’s official: the end is near. Whether or not the dire Mayan predictions for the future of mankind come to pass in 2012, it is clear that time is running out for books.The sad inevitability of this is demonstrated both by the ascendancy of electronic readers and the proliferation…
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Black Humor

“See you in the funny papers” is a phrase one seldom hears these days. Indeed, with the possible exception of “Daddy-​O” or “23 Skidoo,” few expressions seem more obscure.But once upon a time, when newspapers were the Internet of their day, conversational reference to the funnies was the equivalent of…
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