Arts & Culture

Book Reviews: October 2014

The latest from Robert Timberg, Steve Boone, and Matthew Thomas.

Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir
Robert Timberg (Penguin)

Timberg was less than two weeks away from shipping out of Vietnam when a vehicle he was riding in hit a land mine. The explosion left the Marine with severe burns over much of his body and disfigured his face. This memoir recounts Timberg’s recovery from the physical wounds, as well as the trauma of losing his identity (almost literally), which he describes as a “dawning awareness, delivered in a kind of drip-drip-drip water torture of revelation that gradually lands an equally vicious psychic blow.” Timberg eventually became a journalist and covered events like the Iran-Contra scandal for The Baltimore Sun. Here, he writes unsentimentally about tragedies and triumphs, both personal and political, without ever succumbing to clichéd resolution. As a result, he sometimes comes across as bitter, hard-bitten, or, at the very least, justifiably cranky, which some readers might find off-putting. I found it refreshing and utterly compelling, the work of a clear-eyed man. 

See our Q&A with author Robert Timberg.

Hotter Than a Match Head
Steve Boone w/ Tony Moss (ECW)

This music memoir grew out of a piece Moss wrote for Baltimore in 2010 about Blue Seas Recording Studios, the floating recording studio that mysteriously sank into the Inner Harbor in 1977. The studio was owned by ex-Lovin’ Spoonful bassist Steve Boone, whose bio seems culled from an early Jimmy Buffett song. With an assist from Moss, Boone recalls the band’s 1960s heyday and fall from grace after a well-publicized drug bust in 1966. Boone dropped out of view, became an avid sailor, and frequented the Caribbean. The period that follows rivals Boone’s rock-star days, as he resurfaces in Baltimore, buys the studio, struggles with various demons, and, when money gets low, sails loads of marijuana up the Chesapeake from the islands. Finally, he gets busted off the coast of Cuba but, ultimately, lands in an unlikely spot—the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. 

We Are Not Ourselves
Matthew Thomas (Simon & Schuster)

Thomas writes like a student of Alice McDermott’s—which he is. A graduate of The Johns Hopkins University’s Writing Seminars, where the National Book Award winner has taught since 1996, Thomas uses a McDermott-like template for his debut novel. The story involves an Irish-American family, originally from Queens, and mines extraordinary meaning from ordinary lives, especially the husband-and-wife relationship at the heart of the book. Thomas’s narrative unfolds gracefully, perfectly paced and full of nuance, as Eileen and Ed establish careers (she’s a nurse, he teaches at a community college), have a son, and move to the suburbs. Eileen prods her husband to be more ambitious, and he resists with equal resolve. A calamitous illness forces the couple to reassess all aspects of their lives, making them vulnerable at just about every level. No detail of their relationship seems to escape Thomas, who steers the multi-generational narrative to a conclusion that would likely impress his mentor.