cover image Late City

Late City

Robert Olen Butler. Atlantic Monthly, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5882-6

Pulitzer winner Butler steps away from his Christopher Marlowe Cobb series for a moving tale of love and misunderstanding. In 2016, Sam Cunningham, 115 and dying in a nursing home, is visited by God, who interviews him as if for a story (“I want you to talk to me, Samuel. About your life. On the record”). In 1917, Sam flees Louisiana and his racist abusive father to enlist in the Army. After the war, Sam lands a job as a reporter in Chicago and marries Colleen, who in 1922 delivers their only child, Ryan. Sam loves his wife and son, but is unable or unwilling to recognize their true natures, or to grasp why Colleen married him. As WWII looms, Sam tries to prepare the sensitive Ryan for battle. (“I just want you to have the best chance to fully become what you are,” he says, unaware of the irony.) Determined to make his father proud, Ryan joins the Navy in 1940, and what happens to him during the war will change everyone in the family. The God character at first seems a superfluous narrative artifice, but Butler mines the device for an elegant pair of revelations about Colleen and Ryan. Readers with the patience for an old man’s stubbornness will appreciate the redemption herein. Agent: Warren Frazier, John Hawkins & Assoc. (Sept.)