“This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital” by Mark Leibovich (Blue Rider Press, 386 pages, $27.95)
Political scientist Louis Brownlow once famously lauded Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advisers’ “passion for anonymity.” Gone are the days.
Today’s Washington operatives more closely resemble Norma Desmond in “Sunset Blvd.” — characters consumed by their own stardom, however pretend, always “ready for my close-up.” These are the personalities and the city Mark Leibovich describes in “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital.”
The figures Leibovich paints — some well known, others utterly obscure — are grotesque, profoundly needy people whose egos demand constant reinforcement. Several eagerly cooperated with Leibovich’s reporting, flaunting their connections in hopes of winning prominent mention in a book about how people in Washington flaunt their connections.
“Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery” by Robert Kolker (Harper, 399 pages, $25.99)
Kolker’s writing is clean and his tone controlled. For some, he notes, “to say the victims were just Craigslist hookers” earning $200 an hour made them “practically interchangeable — lost souls who were dead, in a fashion, long before they actually disappeared. There is a story our culture tells about people like them, a conventional way of thinking about how young girls fall into a life of prostitution.”
“Lost Girls” asks instead that readers pause over the arc of five short lives, and consider the way the Internet has greased the transactional aspect of prostitution. Kolker indulges in zero preaching and very little sociology; his is the lens of a classic police reporter. And often in “Lost Girls,” the facts are eloquent in themselves.
“Return to Oakpine” by Ron Carlson (Viking, 272 pages, $25.95)
In small-town America, high school is king. Ron Carlson’s sixth novel, “Return to Oakpine,” follows a Wyoming town’s aging residents bent on reliving the glory days of senior year and the summer of ‘69, of first kisses, flat beer and amateur rock ‘n' roll.
Like “The Signal,” his previous book, “Return to Oakpine” is concerned with the culture and landscape of the American West. With Carlson’s typical grace and unadorned prose, his latest novel deals in the prodigal sons and promising footballers of Oakpine, a small town that seems to hold optimism only for its youth.
Carlson knits these multiple voices and perspectives together to capture the magnetic, sometimes damaging pull of hometowns and the memories of invincible youth that can never be restored. “Return to Oakpine” is a humane portrait of the lives we lead and leave behind, peeling back nostalgia’s gold veneer with grace, empathy and a pragmatic sense of optimism.