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NEw England Literary News

Growing pains, family ties, and a larger-than-life lawyer

Ames Adamson will portray Ben Butler, former Massachusetts governor, at Gloucester Stage.
Ames Adamson will portray Ben Butler, former Massachusetts governor, at Gloucester Stage.(Gloucester Stage Company)

With “King of King Court” out this week from Drawn & Quarterly, Travis Dandro has elevated the graphic memoir form. He tells the story of his childhood in Central Massachusetts with an abusive, drug-addicted father, and a mother unable to extract herself and her three sons from him. Dandro captures the complexity of the abusive scene — the troubling dissonance that someone can make you laugh and feel loved, and also be a source of terror and pain, a waking manifestation of nightmare. Dandro’s youth isn’t all crisis and needles and punched faces; there are ants to observe, laughs to be had with pals, and love to be shared with other family members. Amid the chaos and danger, there’s calm to be found. Dandro’s personification of himself is blank-eyed, messy-haired, Calvin-esque; and the illustrations shift between evocative abstraction, classic cartoon, and rich, realistic detail. A threatening mood — a swelling nest of wasps, zombies, storms, loaded guns, empty pill bottles — permeates the book. Our fortune that Dandro could create this from the pain.

Family ties

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Miciah Bay Gault’s arresting debut novel, “Goodnight Stranger” (Park Row Books), takes place on a fictional island off Cape Cod, and centers around twenty-something Lydia, who’s got bigger desires than life on the island but is bound by her shy, withdrawn twin brother Lucas. The two are twined by the deaths of their mother and their infant brother, Colin, the triplet they never knew. When a stranger arrives on the island, it calls into question the family history the siblings thought they knew. Gault, who grew up in part on Cape Cod and now lives in Montpelier and teaches at Vermont College of Fine Arts, writes taut, evocative prose, conjuring specters of spirit and memory. The thriller shows what binds us to places, and what sets us free. “For me it was because of my brothers — Lucas, the living brother, who needed me to look after him, but also my dead brother in the little island graveyard. They held on to me the way families do — that love-anchored gravitational pull.” Gault will read and discuss her book at the Brookline Booksmith on Monday at 7 p.m.

Play books

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In celebration of its 40th season, the Gloucester Stage Company has partnered with Gloucester’s Sawyer Free Library in a program called Page2Stage presenting an enhanced book club experience, pairing texts with performance. This Thursday, Aug. 8, there will be a discussion of excerpts from the autobiography of Ben Butler, a larger-than-life lawyer (1818-1893, nickname: “Beast Butler”), as well as a former Massachusetts governor, an antiwar Democrat, and a champion of women’s suffrage. The conversation will precede a performance of “Ben Butler,” Richard Strand’s play focusing on race and a pivotal moment in the Civil War. The discussion is at 5:45 p.m. in the lobby of the Gloucester Theatre, 267 Main St.; the performance is at 7 p.m. Registration is required, and discounted tickets to the performance are $25. Future discussions and performances include John D’Agata’s “Lifespan of a Fact” on Sept. 5, and David Wroblewski’s “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” in advance of a performance of “Hamlet.” For more information visit sawyerfreelibrary.org.

Coming Out

“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk, translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Riverhead)

“Empty Hearts” by Juli Zeh, translated from the German by John Cullen (Nan A. Talese)

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“Or What We’ll Call Desire” by Alexandra Teague (Persea)

Pick of the Week

Bob Ryan at Wakefield Books in Wakefield, R.I., recommends “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World” (PublicAffairs): “The term ‘hacker’ has mostly negative connotations now, but this group of ethical hackers was formed to free up information and still to this day works to protect individual privacy, and keep us safe from electronic surveillance, and other unethical business and government practices. A compelling book that is both interesting and fun.”


Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.