Blood in the Water (2016), by Heather Ann Thompson

A monumental work of reporting, this book is an exhaustive (and exhausting) account of the four-day Attica Prison rebellion that took nearly four decades to resolve*. Indeed, by the time the uprising ends and the prison has been violently retaken, there is still well more than half the book left, given to a mind-numbing parade of lawsuits and legal machinations. That Thompson is able to make this half as dramatic as the first is remarkable.

*If in fact it ever has been resolved. Despite some modest payouts to victims, the state has never admitted any wrongdoing in its calamitous decision to retake the prison with such fatal, arbitrary force, nor was any law enforcement official involved in the retaking ever indicted.

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#16: Falconer (1977), by John Cheever

He needed time, but he would not pray for time or pray for anything else. He would settle for the stamina of love, a presence he felt like the beginnings of some stair.

220px-Falconer

Q. Do you think your works will be…dated?
A. Oh, I don’t anticipate that my work will be read. That isn’t the sort of thing that concerns me. I might be forgotten tomorrow; it wouldn’t disconcert me in the least.

When John Cheever gave that answer during his Paris Review interview in 1976, broke and recovering from a legendary, decades-long alcoholism, he couldn’t have known how dramatically his fortunes were about to change in the coming years.

By the time he died in 1982, Cheever was unquestionably at his critical and commercial peak, riding the wave of a valedictory resurgence: his fourth novel, Falconer, was published in 1977 to great fanfare, and a year later, thanks to the efforts of his editor Robert Gottlieb, his epochal collected stories received rapturous reviews and a dedicated place in every bookworm’s shelf. Even a substandard final novel, Oh What a Paradise It Seems, written as his physical health was collapsing, couldn’t dim his stature as one of America’s preeminent writers.

Thirty-two years later, Cheever’s premonition that his books would be consigned to a long and yellowing future on library shelves, which might have seemed a tad disingenuous at the time, now seems prophetic.

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