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Short Takes

‘The Searchers,’ ‘The Comfort of Lies,’ and ‘After Visiting Friends’

The Comfort of Lies

By Randy Susan Meyers

Atria, 326 pp., $25

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An affair, and then a baby, bring together three very different women: Juliette, whose husband cheated on her; Tia, who slept with Juliette’s husband; and Caroline, who adopted the baby Tia decided she couldn’t raise alone after its father returned to his wife. After Tia, stalled and regretful, reaches out to her former lover with a picture of their daughter (sent by dutiful, doubtful Caroline, for whom raising the child feels like “trudging through motherhood”), the three women are bound to collide.

Randy Susan Meyers’s second novel is sharp and biting, and sometimes wickedly funny when the author skewers Boston’s class and neighborhood dividing lines, but it has a lot of heart, too. Meyers writes beautifully about a formerly good marriage ­— the simple joys of stability, the pleasures of veteran intimacy ­— and deftly dissects just how ugly things can get after infidelity. The battles these women fight take place on a small stage, yet they’re anything but trivial: saving a marriage, making a meaningful career, learning to parent. In the end, thanks to Meyers’s astute, sympathetic observation, we want these women to win.

The Searchers:

The Making of an American Legend

By Glenn Frankel

Bloomsbury, 405 pp., $28

Although “The Searchers” opened to mixed reviews in 1956, today film critics list it among the best American movies; an iconic brew of John Wayne, John Ford, and Arizona’s Monument Valley, it’s widely considered the most important Western ever made. From its opening shot, the movie is “beautiful, stylized, and ambiguous,” writes Glenn Frankel in this panoramic view that looks at the film’s history — and prehistory. Its plot hinges on Wayne’s character’s single-minded search for his kidnapped niece through Comanche country, a monomaniacal quest that has its roots in a true story. The first half of Frankel’s book chronicles the case of Cynthia Ann Parker, taken at age 9 in a Texas raid that left her parents dead. Found 24 years later, she had three children and a Comanche husband she didn’t want to leave; held by white relatives, she spent the rest of her life “a prisoner of war,” Frankel writes. The families of other female captives chose instead a form of prairie honor killing, considering their relatives ruined by heathen, non-white sexual contact.

Frankel, a former foreign correspondent who reported from Israel and other parts of the Middle East, hints at the parallels he sees between the violence he saw there and what took place on the American Plains: a “forty-year blood feud between two alien civilizations.” His narrative of Parker and her son Quanah is interesting but a bit overlong; the story picks up considerably when Frankel shifts his attention to Hollywood. Director John Ford was an alcoholic, a bully, a bigot, and a genius. Who better to direct a movie about obsession, racism, and revenge? In peeling back the layers of story, myth, and legend that accrued to Parker’s story and led to “The Searchers,” Frankel makes a compelling case for why such a twisted masterpiece still matters.

After Visiting Friends:

A Son’s Story

By Michael Hainey

Scribner, 310 pp., $26

Asked to draw a picture of his father, a young Michael Hainey sketches a coffin with candles on either end; his father had died earlier that year, at 35, leaving behind Michael and his brother, just 6 and 8. Their no-nonsense mother gives vague answers to questions about their father’s death, saying he suffered a fatal heart attack while walking to his car after work at the Chicago Sun-Times, where he was copy chief. As Michael grows up, he senses weakness in the story he’d always been told. Obituary stories conflicted, but two mentioned that he’d died miles from his office, “while visiting friends,” according to one.

In this hauntingly beautiful memoir, Hainey’s investigation into his father’s death — and life — forms a meditation on men and family and work. Born in McCook, Neb., Bob Hainey went to journalism school on a scholarship provided by the Omaha World-Herald for “one of Nebraska’s brightest newsboys.” He followed his older brother to Chicago and the Tribune, where he joined a kind of fraternity of newsmen, hard-drinking guys whose job it was to unearth secrets — until it was time to keep them, as they did from Michael. As he comes closer to his father’s real death story, its importance and meaning keep shifting, along with his understanding of his parents. “If our dead did come back to us,” he asks himself, “what would we do with them?”

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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