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Located on Newbury Street is the Trident, which is Boston’s high end street similar to New York’s 5th Avenue — although this end of Newbury Street is called “Upper Newbury,” ending with the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue, which is a lot more diverse and filled with interesting places.
The Trident was always it seems to me a bustling place, their outdoor patio of tables nestled to its very close neighbor, a florist shop. The bookstore always vaguely had a slightly spicy scent in the air — from incense I think. It was not a new age bookstore but I always thought of it as slightly new age. As an indie there was an eclectic assortment of books, stationary and small gifts, I always enjoyed looking through and shopping there. The cafe served breakfast all day which I loved, and had a bit of a 1960’s-1970’s Hippie health food vibe. After college/university, I worked nearby and when they visited, brought different college friends to the Trident. Some loved it, others not so much. One friend asked for a turkey sandwich to be served plain sans cranberry chutney. To be fair, he probably didn’t know or understand what a chutney was back then.
There was always this cool — hang out kind of vibe there. So I was surprised when I went to one of my first Bookcrossing meet ups there, the waitress in the cafe gave us all a speech about ordering something and only staying so long. But I chalked it up to their small space and wanting to turn over the tables — there can be a wait for tables especially for weekend brunch. Years later out holiday shopping, I stopped at the cashier/desk, and someone actually escorted me back to a part of the store and helped me located an item. Generally, on the whole over the years I remember the staffers being friendly as you browsed. The philosophy and religions section I remember as being quite large, and popular for people just standing there by corner of bookcases reading — no arm chairs — the building is long and not terrible, but a bit narrow.
Sadly, there was a terrible fire but then it re-opened and expanded. In 2019, pre-Pandemic, I met a couple of friends there because I organized a little girls night out, we were going to a women’s networking event nearby, but first we were meeting for something to eat and to talk and catch up. For a little while, I browsed through the first floor, but not making it to the new 2nd floor where they have readings and events. They seemed to have brightened the amber hued lightening and the book selection was interesting. Then one of my friends texted me she arrived and was waiting for me in the cafe, still at the front of the building, and our second friend joined us shortly after that.
The cafe still serves breakfast all day, so I had pancakes and the menu is vegetarian and vegan friendly, which was a perfect match for my two friends. The waitress took our orders on a tablet so definitely a mix of the quirky classic being updated.
And I’m looking forward to going visiting the bookstore again in person, in the mean time I have ordered some books from their website, which were sent with bookmarks and a lovely postcard note.
Eclectic reader that is what I am. A little bit of everything, sometimes from swapping and trade books with my bookclub or Bookcrossing friends, or adding their recommendations to my reading list. Generally, I am not a mystery or a thriller fan, or an “it book” fan. It books being those books you see everyone reading on the train or the beach, friends and family say you must read them, or even strangers at the library. Sometimes I have read them years, if not decades later, which may be unfair because perhaps they lost momentum and are/were not classics.
Two (2) of my recent reads though, I read in one sitting. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, was definitely an “it book” for awhile and it is both a mystery and a thriller. The Prince of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan is also a mystery/thriller of sorts and I’m not sure it was really an “it book.” Although it got a substantial amount of press, promotion and attention in the Boston area because it was set here and also adapted into a film, “The Town,” that was shot in our greater metropolitan area. Gone Girl was also adapted into a film, and actor Ben Affleck played the male lead in both films. Both books completely pulled me in, but for different reasons and spoilers follow.
The Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, is set in the neighborhood of Charlestown back in the 1990’s. The neighborhood was going through an uneasy transition from working class blue collar to yuppie, upper class white collar via gentrification. The story centers on a gang of bank robbers lead by Doug MacRay a failed hockey star/player. To note here, Charlestown like my hometown, has a long history of love with ice hockey cemented by players/members of the gold medal U.S. Hockey team in 1980. MacRay’s gang is a motley bunch and he is the planner, his hockey glory days long gone, with a murky dream of escaping the cycle of criminality that runs in his family via his father. Author Charles Hogan, notes they are stepping into the former a list slot of the real life “No name gang,” who were finally busted for shooting an armored car driver in New Hampshire — that anecdote is actually true.
MacRay is struggling with keeping the members of his gang active, but also keeping their profile low. Also he is battling with tenuous level of sobriety as well as walking away and trying to go straight/legitimate brought on by an infatuation with a bank manager he tailed for weeks in preparation for robbery.
The novel opens with the gang waiting for the bank to be opened. The chapters are short but Hogan is amazing at the back story, and how he inserts it in a layered manner, the history both positive and negative about the Charlestown neighborhood — this itself is masterful, and Charlestown takes its place as an actual character in the book. Hogan does this in other places too, talking about the South Shore Mall as a destination for city kids/teens back in the 1980’s — which is a perfect time capsule or expository for a more unfamiliar reader.
Even though my knowledge and geography of Charlestown is somewhat limited, I was able to feel like I was back in time walking around the city with Doug MacRay. The book has a classic and interesting anti-hero you route for despite all his struggles and mistakes including his battle with sobriety. The book ends on a tragic note, which was originally filmed but then cut via imdb dot com.
Gone Girl is also a masterpiece of layering. The book is divided into sections and first the reader flips between the lead female character Amy’s journals which are dated and in the past and her husband Nick in the present day. These journals document how they met and how the relationship grew with the culmination of a few momentous events, Nick losing his magazine writing job due to the 2008 economic collapse, the cancer diagnosis of his mother and his father’s dementia escalating into Alzheimer’s — results in a move home to his native Missouri.
NYC girl and trust funder Amy’s journals — chronicle the move and her growing despair with their situation in Missouri and her own life. Her trust fund is based on books written by her parents with a fictionalized version of “Amy” — the 2008 crash figures again, with her parents revealing they are in financial distress. Amy’s tailspin at losing both the Brooklyn brownstone she thought was bought outright for her, and plus her security is further ravaged by both her parents urgent request for financial help, and the move back to Missouri and her supplying the money for her husband Nick and his sister Margo or Go to open a bar. To note, there is a lot of passive aggressive elements in these diary/journal entries, not just aimed at Nick but her own parents. The trust fund seemed almost a compromise or a tangible benefit of her having to dealing with this “Amazing Amy” faux perfect self, for her entire life — pulled out from under her.
The Amy of the journals seems frustrated that Nick isn’t as enamored of her as when they first fell in love five (5) years ago. He doesn’t have an eye for details or a good memory — so all her anniversary treasure hunts are a challenge for him and a let down for her. It sets the baseline for her later entries of being a “cool wife/cool woman” that tries to be flexible and not a nag or a shrew, but Amy feels unappreciated and taken for granted and the resentment builds, but to note despite appearances/first reading, it is at a much darker level than normal marriage woes.
The story moves swiftly in the present day Missouri, and Nick learns from a neighbor something is amiss and returns to find the house in bizarre order and Amy missing. The reeling continues as he calls the police, a missing person investigation commences and he reaches out to Amy’s parents. “The narrative” as it has become now in pop culture both in television and online of the missing woman and the husband as suspect number one.
Nick may not have been a caring and engaged husband. Rightly as Amy’s journals reflect despite his insistence on leaving NYC, and moving back to help his folks he quickly bails on going to chemo treatments with his mother — sticking her with that task and his childhood resentment to his father — doesn’t compel him to even call back the assisted living when there are issues/or to pay them on time.
The bar too that he and his sister are using for their livelihood is tied to Amy’s money and prenup, and his side gig is teaching journalism at a local college where he starts an affair with a student. Nick becomes a pretty standard cliche: the guy who takes money from his wife, makes her do the dirty care-taking work, and he is having sex with a younger woman. This chronic bad trifecta in American pop culture and again despite the internet, media, etc. — it does not necessarily mean that the person when onto murder anyone, but it is not a good track record either.
Nick is self aware of this cliche and the danger of holding back his own personal secrets (his young student/mistress), plus the related failures of his marriage, and perhaps the absurdity of the situation, he finds it ironic/type funny. His calm, his cool, his weird smile all add to the building of circumstantial wrath against him only adds fuel to the fire of his situation — along with bizarre realizations about Amy that hit him like bomb after bomb, including a neighbor’s insistence that Amy was actually pregnant. As it all progress, everything comes to light including his realization via her anniversary treasure hunt – — that Amy was aware of his affair — guilty at first he than has an epiphany that her notes/clues are full of double entendres confirming that Any was not only aware of his affair but she is setting him up/framing her for her disappearance — the puppets she left, being a symbol of her control and revenge.
Later sections of the book shift to Amy’s narratives in real time, on the run or hiding out. Her plan she says to watch it all unfold and ultimately take her life. Soon the readers learn the journals/diaries are fake although they contain some true elements. Amy rationalizes that she was playing a part for Nick when they first feel in love but as time wore on: 1) He did not appreciate or respect her for who she was and their relationship, and he trampled on both, 2) She got tied of playing this part anyway. Amy rails against the idea of a perfect woman who is always giving away the best part of herself emotionally and physically, including sexually only to be thrown away — the idea of compromise which she usually builds into the “quizzes” she writes and includes as part of her take on how to handle situations/and people.
On the run, she has a large reserve of cash but logistically things start to go a bit wonky. The mistress/young woman isn’t doing the script Amy has mentally assigned to her. Amy is calling into the tip line and already worrying about money even though her plan was supposedly suicide, and eventually makes the bad decision of befriending a couple of different people where she is holed up. Ultimately they end up robbing her.
This trajectory disturbs her plans — Amy wants to be the controller and the master of all (again the puppet symbol). She wants to elude and exceed the fictional “Amazing Amy.” But she misreads, underestimates many people she dismissed including Nick’s mistress and the people at the cabins — who ended up robbing her. For her second act, she returns to high school boyfriend Desi — her story to Nick about Desi and her stories to the reader about him don’t exactly match up and the reader along with Nick find out Amy told a lot of different versions of different events to different people including a withdrawing date rape allegations.
Readers first meet Amy’s former high school sweetheart Desi and his mother when Nick visits them, where he and Nick are definitely not on the same page about Amy or their past together including his suicide attempt. Desi’s later rescue of Amy and believing her story of fleeing Nick and the abuse at first seems like her luck has turned for the better. But Desi she soon realizes wants to possess her, he has her isolated, and he won’t give her a car, alarm codes or much money.
Amy fosters a plan as she watches Nick on the news presenting in a certain way which makes her think he understands what she did to punish him, and that Nick wants her to return not just to exonerate him but so they recreate these “perfect roles.” In due time she escapes from Desi by drugging him, and returns to Nick. Desi’s kidnapping becomes the basis of her disappearance and her story is that she did what she had to do to escape and put a cover story into play, and she is revealing details only in a controlled space so it cannot be used against her by Nick.
After Nick hears from Amy/she confirms that has killed Desi, he fears for his life, but even with one detective on his side is afraid of Amy. The book ends with them in an uncertain limbo, and I did see most the film but not the ending, so I’m not sure how Hollywood wrapped it.
Amy and all of her manipulations are amazing amount of functioning that spanned decades. A few years ago a read an interview in New York, about a woman diagnosed as psychopath who talked about how she functions, admitting that she does not tell her partner that she loves him and he accepts this/does not expect her to, and he has to remind her that when friends lose parents or spouses the conventional thing to do is to say that–it is sad news and she feels sad for them — when she does not/it simply does not occur to her/not how she is wired. I think there is definitely parts of psychopath in Amy in recalling that but also sociopath in her creating perfect roles demanding people not just herself play them, often unbeknownst to them, and then her darkness toward them, not only her husband Nick by her parents, and even strangers.
The idea of being in love or involved with a psychopath or sociopath like this — the idea of being unaware while caught their web, the loss and wrath fueled by adversity is awful and results in so much carnage even for the smallest encounter/or infraction — well it is hard to know when it will ever stop. This book is like a modern day Greek tragedy.
Today in the U.S., it is independent bookstore day. Even before the Covid-19 Pandemic I have tried to make an ongoing effort to support local independent or “indie” bookstores whenever I could. In Massachusetts, especially in the Greater Boston and Cambridge area, we have been blessed with many wonderful bookstores that are independent, despite difficult economic times and challenges such as competition from the chain stores and Amazon online, many have survived. With the Pandemic I have tried to order online and rotate where I order from to try to give a little business to different stores — a plan I will keep even after it is safe to return to visit in person.
And I do look forward to going into bookstores again, but I will try also to support them with regular sales online after the Covid-19 crisis ends, whenever that will be and that also includes bookshop dot org — which is an online platform for independent bookstores where they have virtual storefronts, and can sell directly or can get a percentage from other sales.
In my town, we have a small book and coffee shop called the Book Depot. From time to time I try to stop in and buy what I can — usually gifts. Again with the Pandemic, I try to limit my time onsite but last week I did stop by and purchased a few books — photo above.
Please take the time to support an independent bookstore today and whenever you can.
This is the debut novel/fiction by Kevin Powers — he now has other novels/books out but this was his first. Powers is an Iraq War veteran and he served overseas on two (2) tours via his bio with the U.S. Army in 2004 and 2005. He also has an MFA and was a poetry fellow. Full disclosure, I first read about him in Poets & Writers magazine and added him to my reading list.
This book is fiction although the author notes he tried to create the answer to the many questions he fielded as an Iraq War Veteran along the lines of: “What is it like over there?”
The book follows a young soldier “Bartle” during a tour of service overseas and toggles between past and present from boot camp to present day. Bartle through the order of his first line supervisor (Staff Sargent Sterling) becomes attached/to Murphy via a vague promise to Murphy’s mother both SSG Sterling and Bartle make: “to watch over the younger man.” Murphy is 18, Bartle a bit older at 22, and their SSG Sterling or “Sarge” a veteran of combat at 24. The three (3) young men and their relationships to each other and the war intertwined as the action unfolds.
The descriptions are beautifully done of the different geographical locations which range from Iraq to Germany to Connecticut. The shifts are wide and cut quite a swath as you bob along with these two (2) young men and the situations that unfold and confound, if not drown them within the tedium and terror of war — and in my opinion are consistent in general with other Iraq and Afganistan war narratives/reportages I’ve read from Colby Buzzell (also a former US Veteran), Brian Mockenhaupt, and Sebastian Junger and others.
Now at the two (2) decades mark the idea of service dissolution, isolation and depression that results from split second decisions as well as the spectrum of P.T.S.D. which has finally made its way into the mainstream here in the U.S.
The writing is beautiful in some aspects similar to a long prose poem despite the grim turns of subject, and the greater themes addressed are important, and when it comes to war writing — timeless.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, Back Bay Books, Little Brown and Company/Hachette, 2012.