National best-seller Wavemaker II is a heart-stopping story of what happens when one man takes a fall for another, leaving his family in disarray. Mary-Beth Hughes's novel is flawlessly executed, full of rich, nuanced characters and sensuous detail. It is the summer of 1964 when Hughes drops us into the splintering world of the Clemens family, poised for collapse when Will Clemens is sent to prison for refusing in court to rat on the notorious McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn. Wavemaker II, which zigzags between a quiet, suburban beach community and the extravagant high-rise frenzy of New York City, is brilliantly told through the points of view of each family member: lovely Kay, who tries to keep a grip on her deteriorating family; heart-wrenching little Bo, who is battling cancer; burgeoning adolescent Lou-Lou, who aches for her mother's lost attention; and beguiling Will, who, with a tired strength, ushers us through spectacular prison scenes. Finally, there is Roy Cohn, who has become the family's shadowy protector in gratitude for Will's loyalty. Charged with an exquisite tension that is riveting clear through to its denouement aboard the titular Wavemaker II, the novel is a masterpiece of page-turning suspense.
Set in the summer of 1964, Hughes's lyrical, poignant debut chronicles the erosion of the tightly knit Clemens family after Will, dutiful husband and father of two, is imprisoned for withholding testimony in an investigation of the activities of controversial attorney Roy Cohn. As the narrative alternates points of view, Kay, Will's despondent wife, spends her time mulling over her husband's predicament, caring for young son Bo who's stricken with cancer in a New York hospital and juggling needy daughter Lou-Lou, who's growing up too fast at the family's home in lazy oceanfront Rumson, N.J. As Will is distanced further from Kay and is sentenced to a year in jail, the grateful Cohn comes to the Clemenses' aid by enlisting his personal friend Dr. Bronson to help with Bo's case. A seasoned medical professional, Bronson tries a new procedure, using Will's stem cells to successfully treat Bo's disease. In succinct, clipped sentences, Hughes relays the intricate, heart-wrenching details of Bo's sickness and gives an account of Will's jailhouse days, which are filled with distrust and danger. Cohn, historically painted as a monster, is portrayed here as compassionate and appreciative of Will's allegiance; once Will is acquitted of his charges, Roy becomes an instant part of the Clemens clan. Hughes's slice of mid-20th-century culture is fascinating, and her fictional recreation of the notorious Cohn, though many will find it implausible, is highly original. Indeed, Cohn's unique characterization adds some much-needed heft to a somewhat undernourished plot. But even when Cohn is not on stage, the story remains moving and vital. Agent, Melanie Jackson. (Feb.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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April 07, 2003
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