The critics have been effusive in their praise for Richard Bausch's Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America and All the Ships at Sea.His hardover sales have also never been higher. Taking its title from Walter Winchell's famous radio salutation, Good Evening Mr. and Mrs. America opens in Washington, DC, in 1964, just after the Kennedy assassination, telling the story of Walter Marshall, an idealistic 19-year-old who lives with his widowed mother and studies to be a journalist like his hero, Edward R. Murrow. In this coming-of-age novel in the truest sense of the phrase, young Marshall fumbles toward manhood in a nation that is itself in the midst of cataclysmic change. With the same elegance and precision that has distinguished his other novels, Richard Bausch has evoked a sense of time and place in a different America and brings the last 30 years of history profoundly and vividly to life.
Bausch is a wily and subtle writer. Readers may initially wonder why he has made his new protagonist a naive, ingenuous, acutely self-conscious and foolishly idealistic young man with grand aspirations. Lacking qualifications or ability, Walter Marshall, 19, dreams of becoming President of the United States. But halfway into the novel, when a birthday party?meant also to announce Walter's reluctant engagement to a woman older but not much more worldly than he?becomes a carnival of eccentric characters and mysterious events, the hook is in. Then, when Walter finds himself participating in a black sit-in that is menaced by a white mob, our consciousness is raised along with his. Readers who don't recognize the title as an echo of broadcaster Walter Winchell's signature salvo will find a bravura passage bringing it into perspective as a revelation of how society receives what one character calls "a show biz" version of government activities, which substitutes for what may be sordid truth. The novel is set in Washington, D.C., in 1964. In chronicling Walter's coming-of-age, Bausch holds a mirror up to 1960s America, whose vague dreams of Camelot were soon to sour in the debacle of Vietnam and the ensuing political scandals. Walter's slide from idealism to disillusionment is revealed through brilliant passages of mundane (but revealing) conversations, hilarious comic moments and characters' poignant attempts to communicate with one another. Within a few days, the devoutly Catholic, sexually repressed and excessively polite Walter proposes to yet another woman, makes an unrealistic commitment to a desperate man, discovers that his mother will marry a suitor he loathes and comes to understand that the world isn't the misty, patriotic vision he has always believed it to be. Bausch's (Rebel Powers) ability to make us empathize with his pathetically artless character is as flawless as his evocation of the political and social issues of the time. $30,000 ad/promo; author tour; first serial and dramatic rights: Harriet Wasserman. Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 05, 1997
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