Cover Image: Late City

Late City

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Member Reviews

Having met and been impressed by an author it is good to continue to read his work, even if you have to follow his career from afar.

I look out for his latest novel and I have not been disappointed by any that I have subsequently read.

He has an ear for authentic dialogue and an eye for detail and a balanced truth. This latest project allows him to explore recent American history and in Sam Cunningham he has a protagonist who has lived through many of his country’s notable events.

The basis of the novel is a variation of the sense of life after death. A meeting with God to review one’s own actions and relationships where the future is withheld so revisions cannot be made with the benefit of hindsight.

A deep and serious look at relationships as much as attitudes to life and decisions made. It overarches the concept of faith without being religious, focusing on personal responsibility and intent. The author resists the urge to paint a perfect life or play God himself. As a reader you are able to be impartial and reflective as with any autobiography one reads.

Sam is a newspaper man, a journalist working for an Independent Chicago paper. His recollections are a series of clippings replayed from his life with the pain and insight of that time. In this way he isn’t so much rewriting his life story but producing the final print run, the Late City edition. This is a clever approach to the idea of a life passing before your eyes in the moments before death.

This is a very approachable piece of writing. A real sense of our humanity shines through. It is life affirming and challenges each about prejudice and speaking the truth. I loved the touches of humour most notably the timing of death which allowed a liberal journalist witness a new presidents election.

Above all it is an everyday story of human struggle, growing up in the Southern states, going to war and the quest for a work life balance that seldom satisfies. I enjoyed the lack of understanding Sam initially has over the responsibilities he has mismanaged, the time wasted and the prejudice that withheld his support or involvement. Whether spoken or unsaid the perception others make of our own life often does not match our own self estimate. The acts of killing others in the Great War seems to Sam to make him less worthy of mercy or acceptance.

A remarkable and inspiring novel full of insight, language and historical review. Ultimately it is about self awareness, the chance and ability to change but owning our words and actions to our last breath. A book that challenges us to make use of our time; to take personal responsibility and enjoy life for the influence and comfort our presence brings.
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It's a fascinating book, entertaining and full of food for thought at the same time.
The author is an excellent storyteller and I loved the style of writing and Sam, a well developed and fleshed out characters.
It's an excellent book, one of those book that remains with you even after you turn the last page.
Highly recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine
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Robert Olen Butler's latest novel has the last WW1 veteran and former Chicago Independent newsman, Samuel Cunningham, aged 115, on his deathbed in a Chicago nursing home in 2016 as the election results confirm Donald Trump as the new American president. A compassionate God turns up to nudge Sam to reflect on his life in the long last day of his soul, lived through a turbulent century of American history and the social norms and attitudes that flourished in these times. Born in 1901, glimpses of Sam's childhood reveal an abusive, racist father who draws his circle in the dirt that includes only those that matter, who beats his mother and him, whose unattainable approval he could not help yearning for. He spends time reading newspapers in detail, so desperate in his desire to escape his father and his home in Lake Providence, Louisiana, that he lies about his age to join the army as a sniper in WW1, killing over 100 men in the horror of the French trenches.

Sam is unable to understand the compassion that soldiers show to the dying, including fellow countryman, Johnny Moon, finding himself inhibited by his picture and judgements of what a man should be that he cannot step up when faced with the worst of moments. Having become a killer for his country, a damaged Sam returns after the war for a quick stop to see his mother, before leaving for Chicago with his ambitions of becoming a journalist, a passion that is fanned by young widow Colleen Larson, the woman he goes on to marry and have a son, Ryan, with. He begins a career with the Chicago Independent that will see him rise to the highest echelons of his profession, a job that is to limit the time he is able to spend with Ryan, missing out on his formative years as he chases stories covering the likes of Al Capone. His regrets and failures come to fore as he looks back on his marriage to Colleen and his deficiencies in his relationship with Ryan, both now long dead as he seeks some form of atonement.

The Late City edition of the Cunningham Examiner here chronicles articles that cover Sam's life as he lies dying, covering issues such as the race riots, politics, the war and the human interest stories that made his name. Obviously only certain events can be picked and chosen, a focus on those in his circle, Colleen and Ryan, but if he thinks he knows all there is to know about his loved ones, his blind spots ensure that he is oblivious, left to be surprised by eye opening 'news'. As the novel concludes, God leaves a golden opportunity for Sam to redeem himself before his death. This is a beautifully written and profoundly moving novel about America seen through the flawed but human Sam, what it was like to grow up in the Jim Crow American South, a coming of age in the nightmare of WW1, of family, marriage, fatherhood, love and loss, and the relationships between fathers and sons. Highly recommended. Many thanks to the publisher for an ARC.
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Sam Cunningham is dying and as he lies on his deathbed in a Chicago nursing home, in the long dark night of the soul, he reflects and reminisces and reviews his long life – all 115 years of it – and discusses all that he has experienced with a rather unusual God, who has come to speed him on his way.  A chatty God is a risky narrative conceit, but I found it worked well and for me it paid off, giving Sam an interlocutor to help him reassess, and I found their exchanges amusing. But this isn’t just a saccharine account of an old man at the end of his life, but as we look back with Sam we too relive the events of the 20th century and we too reassess some of those events. I found the book engaging and entertaining, but with a serious and thoughtful aspect to it as well, and overall a really great read.
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