I'm delighted to be able to report that Valerie Sayers' long-awaited and much-anticipated new novel is out: THE POWERS!
Set in a completely entrancing and fully realized early-forties New York, just before America's entry into WWII, it tells the story of Joltin' Joe Dimaggio's historic hitting streak for the Yankees as a background to two love stories, a family drama, and (most of all) a coming-of-age tale. It encompasses pacifism, spectacle, duty, hero worship, ways of seeing, death particularly the early death of parents and the abiding ache their absence leaves behind, sex (and its enchantments and terrors) before 1963, and the power of mystical thinking and maybe even of real magic.
The very best writers can make any arcane topic interesting even sports (and even for the non-sports fan!)! I personally didn't give a damn about tennis until David Foster Wallace started writing about it; subsequently I couldn't get enough it became thrilling, hilarious, weird, and dramatic all at once in his telling. Similarly, I've always had little time for baseball. But I'll now happily read Valerie Sayers on the subject all day.
One of the best things about this novel is its completely convincing and beguiling voices, which fully inhabit the inner lives of her rich and totally distinctive characters. Complementing this is the story's wonderful sense of place (and time!) heightened by the book's charming inline period photos of 1940s-era New Yorkers doing things and affecting poses that now seem to us straight out of some fairy-tale. New York in 1941 blooms richly back to life, all of it hovered over by the lowering storm clouds of the Holocaust, as news of the deportation of European Jews began to cast shadows the full extent of which only we, here in their future, can see.
Enough from me. Here are some selections of lavish praised heaped upon this book by people you can trust:
Valerie Sayers’s idiosyncratic and brilliantly realized new novel, “The Powers,” opens in the summer of 1941, when Europe is swept up in war and the United States is swept up in baseball mania fuelled by the hitting streak of the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio… historical figures Sayers brings wonderfully to life. [Babe is] a powerhouse character, unashamedly imperfect and instantly memorable… The prose has a distinctive, brutal elegance. The many vivid characters breathe with authenticity, and the emotions at stake are grippingly real. The whole thing is so assuredly done that even Red Sox fans will be won over.
Sayers’s stylish baseball novel goes behind the scenes and follows Joltin’ Joe’s personally tortuous season, exacerbated by his shrill, pregnant wife and the specter of the military draft on the eve of WWII. Against this historic backdrop, Sayers traces the tight relationship of 18-year-old friends Agnes O’Leary, Joe D’Ambrosio, and Bernie Keller. Sayers captures the momentous 1941 baseball season with enough nuanced acumen and sophistication to lift her novel close to those of Malamud and Kinsella.
Sayers's hyperactive mind is a complete joy to experience. This book is a humorous, historical romp with sections so rich and dense, so inhabited by the book's central concerns, that to sit for a few minutes in front of its pages is similar to entering a portal to a 1940s New York so thoroughly drawn that its sights, sounds, smells, streets and people will leave you wheeling and giddy.
The characters come onto the page fully wrought. The lives chronicled here are made interesting by the author's big heart, by her love for fiction's ability to create real people with real dreams and desires. Here is simply great storytelling, intriguing characters, and masterful language. Sayers is a true pro.
Coinciding with the publication of THE POWERS, Sayers' entire back catalog has been reissued. That's huge news, and just fabulous. Here are her earlier books.
And, once again, so you don't have to trust me, here are some comments on these previous titles by little organs like the New York Times Book Review, Kirkus, and the Times of London:
New York Times Book Review
“A writer for whom life is not an abstract notion but a quirkily real, always exactly rendered place where ordinary people can be touched by unexpected grace as they struggle to survive.”
“A splendid storyteller… Both expansive and intimate.”
“Brash and supple…. Graced by a tenacious and generous vision.”
“A first-rate writer, her prose rich with memorable descriptions that bring her landscapes into sharp focus.”
New York Times Book Review
“To say that Valerie Sayers is a natural-born writer wildly underestimates the facts…”
“Her gritty candor and unflinching gaze at her characters’ foibles make the narrative ring with authenticity.”
“She’s smart and irreverent but she’s also kind and compassionate; she gives us imperfect people and makes us like and care about them, an essential task for any novelist but one accomplished by surprisingly few.”
“Begs to be read aloud and shared. Sayers has a voice, and it’s one the reader wants to keep hearing from.”
“Valerie Sayers is a powerfully gifted writer.”
“One of those beautifully realized novels that takes over the reader’s life.”
“Marks the arrival of a true writer.”
“Funny, touching without being in the least sentimental, and pleasingly written.”
The Times of London
Finally, here's this great interview with the author in the Chicago Tribune.