A tale that opens with the improbable and comes tantalizingly close to the hard-to-believe—though, as the subtitle says, it’s all true. Found footage from the shoot of Marilyn Monroe’s infamous The Seven Year Itch scene spurs a search into the life of Jules Schulback, Siegler’s grandfather and the man who captured the moment with his 16-mm camera. Following two different escapes from Nazi Germany, Schulback settled in New York, and his story unfolds through intersecting accounts of the larger-than-life midcentury Americans he encountered along the way. “Special appearances,” as the cover copy notes, include Arthur Miller, Bess Myerson, Walter Winchell, Albert Einstein, and Marlene Dietrich, as well as mobsters, athletes, movie directors, and comic-book publishers. The American Way entertainingly summons a part of this country’s past that now seems mythical, but to those who experienced it firsthand was thrillingly real. 

The American Way
A True Story of Nazi Escape, Superman, and Marilyn Monroe

Helene Stapinski & Bonnie Siegler
Simon & Schuster
$28.99 | 384 pp.

 

In her new book, New York magazine writer Kerry Howley considers privacy not just the ability to keep secret what we want, but “the freedom to live as if most of what passes for experience will not endure.” Howley investigates the disappearance of this freedom primarily through the stories of those enmeshed in the vast government surveillance and secrecy apparatus that coalesced in the United States after 9/11. Her primary subject is Reality Winner, who was sentenced to five years in prison after leaking classified information on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Howley mixes straight reporting with wry, philosophical reflections on the new regime and the conspiracy theories and distrust it has engendered. It’s arguable whether the style is best suited to the subject matter, but the writing is lucid and compelling and the questions it raises are urgent.

Bottoms Up and the Devil Laughs
A Journey Through the Deep State

Kerry Howley
Knopf
$28 | 256 pp.

 


Dennis Lehane, the bestselling novelist of Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, is a master of spinning suspenseful tales of the criminal underworld. Small Mercies, his latest (and reported final) thriller, is set against the backdrop of Boston’s desegregation of its public schools. Mary Pat Fennesy, a lifelong resident of Southie, is looking for her daughter, Jules, who doesn’t come home one night—the same night a young Black man is found dead. Mary Pat suspects the two events are connected, and her search for Jules pits her against a local Irish crew who is about as eager to help her out as they are to welcome Black students. Unfortunately, Lehane sacrifices the best parts of his story to gratuitous (and implausible) scenes of violence and the ugly racism of his characters, Mary Pat included. Rather than offering any kind of reckoning with the neighborhood’s troubled history of bigotry and brutality, the final pages fall short, ultimately no more meaningful than the novel’s eponymous mercies.

Small Mercies
A Novel

Dennis Lehane
HarperCollins
$30 | 320 pp.

Published in the July/August 2023 issue: View Contents
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