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Niagara Falls All Over Again (2015)

Niagara Falls All Over Again (2015)
3.63 of 5 Votes: 5
0965293726 (ISBN13: 9780965293723)
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Niagara Falls All Over Again (2015)
Niagara Falls All Over Again (2015)

About book: Elizabeth McCracken's novel, Niagara Falls All Over Again, is the complete package: strong plot, well developed characters, and several story lines which tie together well. There are so many ways in which this novel could have gone wrong, the fact that MckCracken pulls it off is a testament to her skill.The novel is told to us by Moses Sharp, and Midwestern Jewish boy from a small town, who grows up to be the straight man in a highly successful comedy team. From his time on the vaudeville circuit, where he meets Rocky Carter, the driving force in his life, to his retirement from the entertainment business after making countless B-grade movies, we follow Moses throughout. Moses comes from a large family of sisters, but none dearer than Hattie, with whom he plans to go into show business. When that is no longer possible, he faces the choice of taking over his father's clothing store (as expected), or heading out on his own.He heads out and McCracken gives us a wonderful look at the vaudeville circuit as it was beginning to die. The hope and despair, the bizarre acts, the ability to improvise, and the dependence on each other, all show through. We follow Carter and Sharp, who resemble Laurel and Hardy in their descriptions (although they too are mentioned in the book), as they go to Hollywood and strike it rich. Professionally. Their personal lives are a different story and they take different directions, but to avoid giving away too much, I'll leave you to the novel.While are there are many elements of the book to praise, McCracken's creation of Moses Sharp is the best. He is an intricately drawn person, especially tricky to do since he is the narrator. But he is an honest narrator and we see him for what he is -- a good man with a not always good life and not always exemplary behavior. In other words, he is real.I've praised McCracken's novel, The Giant's House, in another post. It is clear that she is a voice to not only read more of, but one we can watch for as she continues to create.

Just as McCracken showed us the world of librarianship, here she offers a peep at the exotic traveling life of vaudeville in the early and mid 1900's. Jewish Midwesterner Moses Sharp narrates his experience as the straight man professor to fat funnyman Rocky Carter on radio, stage and screen in a long and successful partnership that is wrought with argument, compromise, affairs, and hard work, like any marriage of two minds. Although McCracken may limit her audience with her choice of topic and period references, every time I almost put the book down because I was tired of missing allusions, a laugh out loud funny scene came along, such as the radio scene where the sound man is drunk and uses hoofbeats for every audio effect. McCracken's insightful gems are universal ("Love is an animal that can - with a great deal of patience - be taught to sleep in the house. That doesn't mean it won't kill you if you're not careful." p. 93), her humor is easily accessible (the Sharp and Carter bits are funny as Abbott and Costello), and she has a poet's knack for stringing together words to create vivid imagery: "In the corner a young man with dark hair that fell into his eyes sat at a grand piano, his shoulders already up to his ears, his hands above the keyboard, as though her were a character in a Swiss clock, waiting for the hour to strike." (p. 161).A certain set of readers will love this book, but it may not find a wide audience in spite of its universal themes of marriage and relationships, and of maintaining humor and sanity in the face of devastating loss. Recommended for fans of John Irving.Comment
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Hmmm. This story is about a a couple of vaudeville guys who work together for over twenty years. They start out on the stage, moving from one small venue to the next. They move on to radio, then the movies, and finally television. As one can imagine, their relationship was complicated: part married couple part friends, part rivals (both loved attention). They fought, they didn't speak, they got back together. The title comes from a skit the Three Stooges did. My brothers and I re-enacted that bit ad nauseum, but without the slapping. Ni-A-Gra Falls! I went online to watch it and I stumble upon a documentary on Abbott and Costello. Carter and Sharp were Abbott and Costello! McCracken does the standard disclaimer that any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,events, or locales is entirely coincidental. But...Rocky Carter makes his voice higher because on the radio people couldn't differentiate them. Lou Costello did the same thing. Sure, she mixes it up a bit. In the book, Rocly Carter, the funny guy, has a drinking problem. In real life, Bud Abbott, the straight man had a drinking problem. (view spoiler)[ in the book! straight man Mose Sharp's baby drowns. In real life, it was Costello's baby. (hide spoiler)]
I hate to say it, but as a reader, I'm very shallow. I prefer story-driven books. Fascinating characters are a plus, but won't hook me by themselves. And if I'm told I should read a book just because it's well-written, I feel like a kid with a plate of vegetables plunked in front of him who's told, "Eat up! They're good for you." "Niagara Falls All Over Again" caught my attention with the subject matter: the story of a comedy duo rise through vaudeville, radio, movies and television, and their inevitable fall - and falling out. (I'm a huge Abbott and Costello fan.) As I read, though, I realized how much I was enjoying the writing for itself, over and above its role as vehicle for conveying the plot. Go ahead, unleash those eye rolls and face-palms, and let the "Duh!"s resound. I deserve them. And this book is a damned fine read.
Audiobook. I was looking for Elizabeth McCracken's novel The Giant's House and found this one instead. I am so glad I did. George Guidall narrates the story, which is told from the perspective of an aging vaudevillian turned successful comedian, the straight man half of the famous comedy team Carter and Sharp. Mose Sharp, now an elderly man, recalls the events of his life. McCracken captures the voices of her characters--and of the time period--so well. The narrative never seems false or stagey; instead, McCracken masters the cadences of early 20th century popular speech without sacrificing emotional depth. Moses's Hollywood success story provides the frame for a moving narrative about love and loss. A wonderful read.
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