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2 Brand new books and #bookreviews. WEAR AND TEAR by Tracy Tynan (@tynanthreads) and UNDERGROUND AIRLINES by Ben H. Winters (@BenHWinters) Very different but they’ll make you think.

Hi all:

As you know I’ve been sharing new books and reviews recently. These two have just been published this week (the first one only available in hard cover at first) and I thought they might appeal to very different readers, but I enjoyed them  both (in very different ways).

First:

Wear and Tear by Tracy Tynan
Wear and Tear by Tracy Tynan

Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life Hardcover by Tracy Tynan   A life in clothes, lived with a big heart and plenty of talent.

Description:

A candid, entertaining memoir told through clothes.

Tracy Peacock Tynan grew up in London in the 1950’s and 60s, privy to her parents’ glamorous parties and famous friends—Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Orson Welles. Cecil Beaton and Katharine Hepburn were her godparents. Tracy was named after Katherine Hepburn’s character, Tracy Lord, in the classic film, The Philadelphia Story. These stylish showbiz people were role models for Tracy, who became a clotheshorse at a young age.

Tracy’s father, Kenneth Tynan, was a powerful theater critic and writer for the Evening Standard, The Observer, and The New Yorker. Her mother was Elaine Dundy, a successful novelist and biographer, whose works have recently been revived by The New York Review of Books. Both of Tracy’s parents, particularly her father, were known as much for what they wore as what they wrote.

In the Tynans’ social circles, style was essential, and Tracy had firm ideas about her own clothing for as long as she can remember. Shopping was an art passed down through the family; though shopping trips with her mother were so traumatic that Tracy started shopping on her own when she was fourteen.

When Tracy started writing about her life she found that clothing was the focus of many of her stories. She recalls her father’s dandy attire and her mother’s Pucci dresses, as well as her parents’ rancorous marriage and divorce, her father’s prodigious talents and celebrity lifestyle, and her mother’s lifelong struggle with addiction. She tackles issues big and small using clothes as an entrée—relationships, marriage, children, stepchildren, blended families, her parent’s decline and deaths, and her work as a costume designer are all recounted with humor, with insight, and with the special joy that can only come from finding the perfect outfit.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Tracy Tynan uses the universal medium of clothing to tell the highly specific story of her Bohemian British upbringing, and she does so with wit, candor and yes– style. For anyone obsessed with the intellectual gossip of yesteryear- or just obsessed with the language of fashion- this book will be a cozy bedfellow.” (Lena Dunham)

“Tracy Tynan’s memoir is a wolf in sheep’s clothing…Rich in humor and observation, its stylish tone belies the often harrowing nature of her formative years, and details with bravery and precision exactly who she was and what she wore.” (Anjelica Huston – Author of A Story Lately Told and Watch Me)

Tracy Peacock Tynan grew up in a tornado of glamorous, stylish eccentricity. So jealous!!!” (Simon Doonan -Author of The Asylum: True Tales of Madness from a Life in Fashion)

“Tracy Tynan takes on the paradox of style with unique flair in Wear and Tear, by hanging her book on the clothes she wore at key moments in her life. But the life of the exceptionally stylish, charming and resilient Ms. Tynan is like no other — a brilliant, famous father, a titan of culture addicted to S+M, an equally brilliant but alcoholic mother who’s become a cult writer, the promises and delusions of a life among the famous, a career as the go-to movie costume designer.

Wear and Tear is poignant, surprising, and an enchanting inner view of what it is to come into oneself among the sacred monsters of the 20th century.” (Joan Juliet Buck)

“A page-turning memoir that affords an astonishing glimpse into rarified lives in the now-extinct Anglo-American literary jet set. Tracy Tynan inherited both her parents’ sartorial flair, and their skill with words.” (Matt Tyrnauer – Director, Valentino: The Last Emperor)

Wear and Tear is a riveting account of life growing up as the only child of two famous and famously complicated personalities: theater critic Kenneth Tynan and writer, Elaine Dundy. Tracy Tynan recalls her fascinating and difficult childhood during the Swinging Sixties in London and New York, and the legendary actors and artists who frequented her parent’s life. She chronicles her growth as an artist, taking on myriad roles as lover, costume designer, step-mother, mother, and wife, with honesty and insights that make for can’t- put- down reading. Her independence and original style weave through the pages of her book just as they have always done in her life.” (Wendy Goodman – Design Editor, New York Magazine)

“In this wonderfully observed, elegiac, and least judgmental of memoirs, esteemed costume designer Tracy Tynan describes a society and personalities defined by style, and the ever shifting self-perception that characterizes out sized lives–and talent. Moving effortlessly between the world where post war American and British literature and cinema, theatre and politics, converge, Tynan details a now vanished golden age with wit, honesty, and that rarest of qualities—empathy.” (Hilton Als)

Wear and Tear is the first book that reveals style as a successful survival strategy. Tracy’s familial chaos required much dancing backwards in heels and looking good in the part. Written with compassion, she pulls no punches, her observations are not casual chic. A fascinating read about a creative clan. (Deborah Landis -Author of Filmcraft and Hollywood Costume)

“The daughter of celebrities reflects on fame, parenthood, and style. Costume designer Tynan makes her literary debut in a candid and entertaining memoir featuring her alcoholic, combative parents, theater critic Kenneth Tynan and novelist Elaine Dundy, and their assorted glamorous friends. Her vivid descriptions reflect her love of clothes, designers, fabrics, and, not least, shopping. Star-studded, gossipy, and engaging.” (Kirkus)

About the Author

Tracy Tynan is a costume designer and writer living in Los Angeles. Her credits include the movies The Big EasyBlind DateGreat Balls of Fire, and Tuesdays with Morrie.

My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to Scribner for offering me a free copy of this memoir in exchange for an unbiased review.

I knew who Kenneth Tynan was before I read this book. Although well before my time, I do love theatre, I’ve lived many years in the UK and I’d heard of his reviews, his wit, and remembered having seen pictures of him, but didn’t know much about his life. I didn’t know anything about his first wife, American writer Elaine Dundy, or his daughter Tracy, and I must admit that I’m not a big clothes buff. Having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. The clothes (or outfits) give name to the chapters and form the backbone of the book, assisting the author in organising her memories. I guess we all have things we remember, music, movies, books, and they help bring to our mind momentous happenings in our lives. Why not clothes, especially when they were so meaningful to her and the people she cared about?

Tracy Tynan’s life isn’t ordinary, whatever our definition of an ordinary life might be. Both her parents were popular, talented, brilliant and social butterflies. Their parties and events read like the who is who, first of London and then of the LA of the era. But they weren’t particularly gifted as parents. They seemed wrapped up on their own relationship, the people they knew, and their careers. Their daughter was often an afterthought, and even when they tried to connect with her they weren’t very skilled at it. But the author is generous to a fault and makes an effort to be fair and not to dwell or overdramatise matters. She tries hard to understand and does not moan or complain, despite having lived through pretty harrowing experiences due to her parents’ rocky relationship and to their difficult behaviour. She is sympathetic towards other’s plights and never self-apologising, something extremely refreshing.

The book is full of anecdotes but despite the many famous people the writer has met through her life this is not a scandalous book trying to exploit her connections and throw dirt at others. She always has a good word to say, even about people or actors she had a hard time with, and I got the distinct impression that she subscribes to the idea that if you don’t have anything good to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all. It’s a book full of passion for clothes, for life, for her friends and family. It’s a touching and warm book although it avoids sentimentality, cheap thrills and pulling at heartstrings.

This first-person account is a beautifully written book (she seems to have inherited the writing talent from both her parents), a page turner, understated, and we get to feel as if we were reading the memoirs of a friend. The chapter about her daughter, who was born premature, reminded me of my goddaughter, who was born in similar circumstances, and it resonated especially with me.  Her reflections about getting older, her experience of losing loved ones, and her more recent activity volunteering with homeless organisations and those looking after women victims of domestic violence made me realise I had more in common with this woman than I could have ever guessed when I started reading.

If anybody is worried about reading these memoirs because they aren’t familiar with the people involved or are not interested in clothes, don’t let that stop you. The book can be enjoyed by readers who know the era and many of the famous actors, writers, directors, clothes designers… who formed the social circle of Tracy Tynan’s family, but also by all those who have an interest and a passion that has accompanied them throughout their lives, who’ve survived complicated family lives, who love their friends and their families, and who don’t fear reinventing themselves once over again.

I’m not sure if the paper copies will have pictures. The Kindle review copy I was sent didn’t, but that did not diminish my enjoyment.

Links:

In hardcover: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1501123688/

 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1501123688/

And:

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters  Some nightmares look and feel too close to reality for comfort. 

Description:

‘The most timely of alternate history novels. Ben Winters has created a spellbinding world that forces the reader to look around—and to look within. This is a thriller not to be missed and one that will not be easily forgotten.’ Hugh Howey

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it. Except for one thing: slavery still exists.

Victor has escaped his life as a slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Striking a bargain with the government, he has to live his life working as a bounty hunter. And he is the best they’ve ever trained.

A mystery to himself, Victor tries to suppress his memories of his own childhood and convinces himself that he is just a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he is desperate to preserve. But in tracking his latest target, he can sense that that something isn’t quite right.

For this fugitive is a runaway holding something extraordinary. Something that could change the state of the country forever.

And in his pursuit, Victor discovers secrets at the core of his country’s arrangement with the system that imprisoned him, secrets that will be preserved at any cost.
‘It is a rare thing when a writer has a fresh new provocative idea – and then executes it beautifully. This is what Ben H. Winters has done in his novel Underground Airlines. Imagine an America in which slavery still exists. Now imagine a dramatic telling of the story.’ James Patterson.

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Am I allowed to curse? Because holy heck, I want to. This book is shocking, bold, sad, human and wise. Put an expletive in front of each of those adjectives. It’s not post-apocalyptic fiction, but if you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this too. If you liked Station Eleven (an overused but appropriate comp!), World War Z, or Brief History of the Dead, then this is a book you should read.”―Rebecca Fitting, Greenlight Bookstore

Underground Airlines is the rare book that actually fulfills the promise of being unlike anything you’ve ever read. The alt-world premise of a present day US where the Civil War never happened and slavery still exists in four states, is so perfect for the current dialogue about race that’s going on right now. It’s not that common to be reading a gripping page turner of a mystery and be thinking about voices like Ta-Nehisi Coates at the same time. It’s one of those books you only want to stop reading so that you can go out and start talking to people about it. I can’t wait until this book is out in the world so I can engage with other readers about it.”―Robert Sindelar, Third Place Books

“Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines is an ingenious speculative thriller wrapped around the core of our nation’s ouroboros history of institutional racism. While that may sound bizarre to some, Winters pulls it off with ease, crafting a novel that is both fantastic and scarily believable at the same time.”―Ian Kern, Mysterious Bookshop

“Ben H. Winters has crafted a timely, necessary, and gripping page-turner. The plausibility of Underground Airlines‘ central conceit is terrifying, made more so by the author’s deft blend of alternate history and modern mundanity, but the loose, often jaunty narration of its flawed protagonist, Victor, prevents its descent into hopeless, maudlin territory. Victor’s desperate pursuit of freedom or redemption, whatever the cost, propels the novel toward its inexorable and satisfying conclusion.”―Jake Cumsky-Whitlock, Kramerbooks

Underground Airlines is a work of astonishing originality and ambition. Like the best art, it forces us to question our own assumptions. Is the machine of modern civilization really that far removed from the alternate reality that Winters presents here? We’re all implicated in this unsettling and visionary novel. Ben Winters is one brave writer.”―Patrick Millikin, The Poisoned Pen Bookstore

“I could not put Underground Airlines down. A brutal, hard-boiled detective mystery about what might have happened if Lincoln had been killed before ending slavery, it is thought provoking and vivid. It will live with you for a very long time.”―Rene Kirkpatrick, Eagle Harbor Book Co.

About the Author

Ben H. Winters is the author of, most recently, World of Trouble, the concluding book in the Last Policeman trilogy. The second book, Countdown City, was an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Distinguished Science Fiction. The Last Policeman was the recipient of the 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America; it was also named one of the Best Books of 2012 by Amazon.com and Slate.

My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to Cornerstone Digital for providing me a free copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

When I read the premise of this novel, a United States where the Civil War hadn’t taken place and slavery was alive and well in modern times, I was intrigued. As part of my American Literature course I did read historical and literary texts related to the Civil War and later to the Civil Rights Movement, and I found the thought of what modern-day America might have looked like if things have gone differently both fascinating and horrifying.

The book is classed under alternative history, a subgenre that allows authors to imagine scenarios that might make readers shiver, or just reflect on how far (or otherwise) civilisation has come.

The world in Underground Airlines is on the one side very similar to the world we know (at least the bits we’re shown), and even the historical figures of importance are mentioned, although in some cases with a slightly alternative fate or role (like Lincoln’s earlier demise, and Michael Jackson’s different set of problems). Despite the genre, the book is not very heavy on history and does not hammer readers with deep analysis (there are subtle references to themes like the Mockingbird syndrome) and considering the nature of the subject it even manages to avoid heavy pulling at emotional heartstrings.

The story is told in the first person by Victor or… well, whomever he is. The main character is an African-American free man, but not really. He escaped from a slaughter house where he had been born and was supposed to spend all his life. They found his hiding place and forcefully recruited him to become an official agent who would find escapees and return them back to one of the 4 states where slavery is still legal, thanks to the 18th Amendment to the constitution. At first, Víctor made me think of Herman Melville’s The Confidence Man, whereby seemingly different characters tell different stories, although perhaps they are all one and the same master of disguise. But then I thought (and saw a comment that also made that reference) about the film Blade Runner, at least if we think about the first version of the film with Deckard’s narration. Victor is somebody who tries hard not to remember anything about his past (although memories, or more accurately flashbacks, intrude every so often) or to feel anything. He has become so adept at adopting other identities that when at some point Martha —a young mother he meets early in the novel and ends up embroiled in the whole intrigue — wants to know his real name, he’s no longer sure. He also reminded me of Deckard with regards to the doubt in many people’s minds as to his real identity. Is he a human being or a replicant? Victor insist (to himself) that he does what he has to do, that he does not care about the ongoing slavery and his own safety is his only concern, that he does not believe anybody can do anything or any of his acts can change matters, but…

What seemed to be a pretty streamlined occupation for Victor starts to get complicated when he is assigned a case where he soon realises something is not what it seems. The file is not complete, the phrasing is off, and the people he meets along the way seem to be hiding something, although he doesn’t quite realise how much. Agents and double agents, twists and turns, betrayals, and a visit to the Deep South are on the cards for the man whose only goal is to not make ripples and keep to the plan.

The book is written in a style that seems to fit in with the fictional character, although for me, somehow, the picture was as fractured as the man itself. Although I have a weakness for unreliable narrators, and Victor is indeed one of them, I had difficulty connecting with him, perhaps because he was himself disconnected and avoided looking at his emotions, and I am not sure he ever became a fully-fledged character for me.

The idea behind the story is good although I wondered if people really keen on historical fiction would find there is enough detail or would like to know more than the brief tasters and snippets that are hinted at throughout the novel. Personally, the novel made me reflect on the nature of world politics and economy, as in what is considered the developed world we seem to be happy to wear or consume products manufactured in near-slavery conditions with little concern for where they come from or only paying lip service to such issues. The specific reflections on race and racism will perhaps be more shocking to readers not very familiar with the topic or who have not read novels or classic texts by authors and figures who’ve written more extensively on it.

I liked the ending, although I wasn’t a hundred per cent sure how well it fitted in with the rest (but I won’t comment in detail to avoid spoilers). The issue at the heart of the investigation that costs many people dearly was to my mind less surprising than it was built up to be (the big whatsit kind of scenario) although in truth I’m not sure what I was expecting.

In sum this is a novel that paints a scary but somewhat familiar alternative version of history in the US (an uncanny version if one wants) and makes us think about issues of race, loyalty, identity, family and global economy. It can be a good introduction to the genre of alternative fiction and has enough intrigue for readers in search of a good story.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B019CGXX5G/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B019CGXX5G/

Thanks so much to Net Galley and to the publishing companies and to Tracy Tynan and Ben H. Winters of their books, thanks to you all for reading, and please, share, like, comment and CLICK!

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