Uncle Anton’s Atomic Bomb, by Ian Woollen
Spring, 1951. The Cold War. Two fresh college graduates renew a childhood acquaintance on a long train ride home to Indianapolis. Embers ignite. Mary Grace Stark is about to embark on her first State Department posting in Moscow. Ward Wangert III reluctantly returns to his family business, after turning down a job offer from He Who Remains Classified, a powerful friend at the C.I.A. A few months later, while supervising a bomb shelter project, Ward receives an emergency summons from Moscow. He travels behind the Iron Curtain to rescue Mary from a diplomatic debacle. The couple decides to wed, even though Mary won’t say who fathered her unborn child.
Ward and Mary produce two more sons and struggle to maintain their standing in the deteriorating rust-belt city of Indianapolis. Their family saga, which spans the latter half of the American Century, is a tragicomic mix of upper-crust romance, sibling warfare, boarding school drama, and C.I.A. skullduggery.
Hush Now, Don’t Explain, by Dennis Must
Honor, an orphan, finds her way to the Victorian boarding house where she thinks her mother might have birthed her. World War II has just ended, which alerted many Americans to the world beyond, but Honor and Billy’s lives are limited to the dead-end town of DeForest Junction and its nearby notcherie, where exotic wemen sell their bodies to the rail men. Along with her mixed-race “cousin” Billy, Honor grows to womanhood, cared for by Miss Alsada and enchanted by the colorful stories of the shanty store owner, Mr. Augustus Willard, who claims to have traveled far and wide.
One day, an itinerant blues musician shows up at the boardinghouse, electrifying Billy with his skill at the upright piano. He departs just as quickly, leaving behind hints that he might be Billy’s father. Soon after Buster Stanley’s departure, men in white hoods burn a cross in the field behind the boardinghouse and torch a number of shacks occupied by black families. Honor and Billy decide to leave DeForest Junction—a feat they accomplish with the help of Mr. Willard, whose shanty store was burned. With Honor disguised as a boy for safety’s sake, the three friends ride the rails southward, their ultimate destination: New Orleans. Billy is on the trail of Buster Stanley, but Honor is on an intense quest for Honor. How will she escape that fate of those wemen, waiting for a man to fill up the void in her life?
Exile on Kalamazoo Street, by Michael Loyd Gray
Bryce Carter was once a novelist with a following. But unlike James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is genius to millions, Bryce’s experimental novel Reflections was genius to maybe three people. After walking away from his teaching job, Bryce was headed on a one-way collision course down Whiskey River, with only one path to survival: sobriety. And for him, giving up drinking meant exiling himself from his former life.
Now Bryce is holed up in his house on Kalamazoo Street along with his cat, Black Kitty, also a refugee from the cold, snowy world outside. The terms of his self-imposed exile make him dependent on his sister and a sitting duck for anyone who cares to drop by, including an officious minister, an old drinking buddy, an alluring former student, and a pair of Hollywood flunkies who offer Bryce a chance to rescue Reflections from obscurity—if only he can write the screenplay. Unfortunately Bryce’s well of creativity has dried up along with his will to drink, and the more time he spends in exile, the less inclined he is to dip a toe into the icy waters of reality.
Fantasy on the Theme B-A-C-H, by David W. Paul
The year is 1969, and Thomas Braxton, a gifted organist at a white, middle-class church in a suburban Baltimore neighborhood, hungers for a glorious performing career of recital tours and recording contracts. Then he is given the opportunity of a lifetime: a recital at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He has six months to prepare. The catch: the program includes Franz Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H, a notoriously difficult piece he has never been able to master. During his first, unsuccessful attempts, a frustrated teacher told him that the price of mastery might be madness. Braxton is fascinated by the 19th century composer, Liszt, famous for his skill at the keyboard and weakness for women.
Thomas’ friendship with a radical inner-city priest, Archie Graham, leads him into a rundown neighborhood of East Baltimore, where he encounters a homeless man and a young black prostitute. They linger in Thomas’ mind, appearing in dreams both erotic and violent. As Thomas immerses himself in Liszt’s life, he improves his organ skills and becomes more attractive to women. But his increasingly bizarre behavior worries his friend Archie. While mourning the lost love of his college years—a volatile woman who liked dangerous men—he is drawn to both his underage organ student and her older, seductive sister. He is determined to resist them both. But like Liszt, he is only human, and must pay a price for this surge in sexual and creative power.