Review ~ On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown

On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown by Theodore Wheeler

Cover via Goodreads

The story of an immigrant boy who’s caught up in a race riot and lynching, based on events surrounding the Omaha Race Riot of 1919. While trying to find a safe place in the world after being exiled from his home during World War I, Karel Miihlstein is caught in a singular historical moment and one of America’s most tragic episodes.

Written in the tradition of the historically-set work of Don DeLillo, Denis Johnson, and Colum McCann, On the River, Down Where They Found Willy Brown depicts its characters in deep personal detail and wide social panorama—from a contentious Interrace baseball game on the Fourth of July to the ear-splitting clatter of a race riot—while revealing the folly of human nature in an age of astonishing ambition. (via Goodreads)

Last week I wrote about Orville D. Menard’s River City Empire, a book about Omaha’s political and criminal boss Tom Dennison. During the 1918 elections, reformists gained a political foothold after over a decade of Dennison’s picks being elected, namely perpetual mayor Jim Dahlman. In response, crime seemed to increase in the city. The lesson: Dennison’s brand of corruption was better for the city than unchecked activity. Of course, there is also evidence that Dennison and his cronies were behind some of the high profile incidents, including men in blackface assaulting white women. Dennison had influence over the Omaha Bee daily newspaper and it reported on the assaults as well as racial unrest around the country in shrill detail. Add to that, preexisting tensions in the city due to unemployment. The accusation against Will Brown—of raping 19-year-old Agnes Loeback—was the match that lit the powder keg. A mob of thousands of white men laid siege to the Douglas County Courthouse until Will Brown was turned over to them.

Into this historical event, Theodore Wheeler places Karel Miihlstein. Karel is an immigrant, as many were in culturally diverse Omaha. He’s a good kid with four sisters, no mother, and a father focused very much on his own work as a repairer of violins. Karel has some knack at baseball, a sport that is nationally popular and an important entertainment. I don’t know how much of the July 4th baseball game is fact or fiction, but it feels real; it feels like an event that could get lodged in a young man’s mind and could lead to bad decisions later. Wheeler does a wonderful job with the setting, but an even better job giving his characters motive for behaving as they do.

Publishing info, my copy: Edition Solitude, Kindle Edition, 2015
Acquired: Amazon
Genre: Historical
Previously: I came across Theodore Wheeler while, surprise, doing research into Tom Dennison and early 20th century Omaha. According to his webpage, there is a novel length version of this novella in the works.

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Review ~ River City Empire

River City Empire: Tom Dennison’s Omaha by Orville D. Menard

Cover via Goodreads

More than any other political boss of the early twentieth century, Thomas Dennison, “the Rogue who ruled Omaha,” was a master of the devious. Unlike his contemporaries outside the Midwest, he took no political office and was never convicted of a crime during his thirty-year reign. He was a man who managed saloons but never cared for alcohol; who may have incited the Omaha Race Riot of 1919 but claimed he never harmed a soul; who stood aside while powerful men did his bidding. His power came not from coercion or nobility but from delegation and subterfuge.

Orville D. Menard chronicles Dennison’s life in River City Empire, beginning with Dennison’s experiences in Colorado mining towns. In 1892 Dennison came to Omaha, Nebraska, where he married and started a family while solidifying his position as an influential political boss. Menard explores machine politics in Omaha as well as the man behind this machine, describing how Dennison steered elections, served the legitimate and illegitimate business communities, and administered justice boss-style to control crime and corruption. The microcosm of Omaha provides an opportunity for readers to explore bossism in a smaller environment and sheds light on the early twentieth-century American political climate as a whole. (via Goodreads)

Of the mixture of Omaha history and magic history that I’ve delved into in the last couple years, Tom Dennison might be the oldest ingredient from a research standpoint. According to Evernote (which is probably more or less accurate for this tidbit of information), I first bookmarked Omaha’s entry at AmericanMafia.com back in September 2012. I had done a search on the Mafia and Omaha and had been surprised to find any thing at all. But that is because I didn’t know my history.

At one time, “nice” Omaha, Nebraska was known as an “open” city. Its fast growth in the mid- to late- 1800s allowed for all sorts of vices to flourish, and for organized crime to move in and take advantage. Tom Dennison was a force in Omaha from the early 1900s until the mid-1930s. As the blurb says, he never held office and he was never convicted despite being the head of a political machine that allowed gambling, bootlegging, and prostitution to thrive. That isn’t to say that crime went unchecked in Omaha. It was actually quite well controlled, to benefit Dennison, of course.

River City Empire is an incredibly information dense book and well-researched. Menard tries to hit every facet of political bossism at play. Unfortunately, the organization isn’t intuitive. After a few biographical chapters, Menard tackles individual topics in a sort of chronological manner which leads to jumping back and forth through the timeline. I sort of feel like I need to reread this book to get things properly sorted in my head. It was a very interesting read, but not an easy or fast one.

Publishing info, my copy: University of Nebraska Press, 2013, paperback
Acquired: Amazon
Genre: Non-fiction, history.

Friday Round Up; Of Health

Time for my Friday round up:

Where was I this week?

Issues of Health

Eric and I planned our trip to Omaha this week, though it’s still somewhat tentative. My grandma’s health is not so good. Since last February, she’s been up and down, and lately, more down. I really, really don’t want to have reason to go back before our May 24th flight.

On my side of health, a nasty arthritis flare-up on Tuesday reminded me that I need to do more when I feel good. That includes exercising. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s any pattern to exertion and flare-ups. I’ve gained a few pounds lately and I need to start exercising more again. 2-ish times a week isn’t cutting it.

Women’s League

While I’m a proponent of women’s ultimate, I will admit that I’m not very good at it. I’ve played mostly co-ed, and as someone who’s played mostly with men, it’s often hard getting used to shorter and, yes, slower targets. Yet, I found myself really excited about women’s league after seeing my team. I mean, Sarah, Betsy, Marnie, Mel, Monika, and Kaysi all on the same team? Fun and good might actually co-exist! I was pretty surprised at the talent in the women I didn’t know too. Deborah is a dark horse with some skills and  the others are all enthusiastic and willing to learn.

We lost our game last night, but in universe point against a squad consisting of mainly ASU girls. The final point was notable in that it lasted nearly twenty minutes. I kid you not. The point was well in-progress when hardcap was blown at 9:50pm and we didn’t slap hands until 10:10. Allyson actually asked if we had heard the horn. Granted, the captains have made a vow to explain rules as we go along, and I believe that last point consisted of at least one rule-related stoppage in play and possibly a medical stoppage as well. (I don’t remember if it was during that point that Erin got clocked by Betsy or the point before.)

In all, my play was pretty good. After lacking limb control on Wednesday, I was a little worried, but after heading long during the second point, I knew I’d be okay. Throwing was decent. I hit Marnie in the hands with an IO forehand for an almost-score. That was a little low and zippy though. I only threw one ridiculously high backhand, which Kaysi nearly snagged anyway. My D was okay. I think the only person that ran rough-shod over me was Kaetlynn, but hopefully I proved to be a little less of a mis-match than she figured I would be. Well, a girl can dream…

30 Days of Writing: Day 18 (& Life)

18. Favorite antagonist and why!

Alcander of Model Species. The tricky thing here is that I can’t really get into why I like Alcander without being spoilery. Alcander is smart. He acts deliberately in his own best interest. He is not a mustache-twisting black-hat-wearing baddie. There are shades of gray to what he does. And…yeah, I really don’t want to say much more. Eric has written some of his back story and I get to have more fun with him one of these days in Fuel Eaters.

—###—

Last Friday, my grandma went back into the hospital. She was having trouble breathing and had swelling in her feet. By chance, I’ve been in Nebraska since Friday. She’s back out again and doing okay with O2 at home. So, this trip has been somewhat disjointed. It doesn’t help that my joints have been pretty lousy the last couple days. But, what are you going do?

Oma(ha) Update

So, on Tuesday night after talking to heart surgeon #2 (opinion #4), it was decided that Oma would go home on medications sans any procedure. On Wednesday morning, her main cardiologist came in announcing that it was time to go put in some stents. My mom was called and all hell broke loose. The cardiologist, confused by the decision, won out. In his opinion, there was only a 1% chance that things would go badly, which wasn’t the impression we were under. They put in two stents (the third will be done later) and Oma almost immediately started feeling better. They sent her home Thursday. Yesterday, I went grocery shopping with her and she was moving around better than when I saw her last summer. Funny how much blood circulating through your body helps. Her main frustration now is diet. She’s low-sodium now as well as low-sugar. We’re a family that likes to eat and are pretty stubborn about our likes/dislikes. (I’ve tried to buck this trend as much as possible. Nothing particularly bad comes from trying new things.) But, my grandmother is a smart woman and with some explanation, I think she’ll do just fine. Mom, Oma, and I are going to get hair cuts/dos today, an activity that had been schedule last Saturday.

I’m getting along okay. Two layers of clothes keep me warm. I’ve been taught how to use the swanky coffee pot, but managed to melt bubble wrap on to a roaster. The cats fine my presence interesting.  I’ll probably finish reading A Slight Trick of the Mind on time tomorrow. I haven’t done anything work-related. I miss Eric.

Abruptly in Omaha

My mom called me Saturday morning to tell me that Oma was in the hospital. Congestive heart failure with renal complications. She had been having trouble breathing during the last couple of days, especially when sleeping, and actually asked to be taken to the doctor on Friday. (Our family is notoriously doctor adverse. Grandpa was liters down from a bleeding ulcer before going to the doctor. The doc was amazed that he was not unconscious. Asking to be taken to the doctor means something is *wrong*.) Tests found that Oma has a leaky heart valve and hefty blockages in three arteries. Cardiologist #1 said that stents wouldn’t be viable and bipasses would have to be done. Heart surgeon #1 said that due to age, diabetes, and other factors that open heart surgery really wasn’t an option. Cardiologist #2 said open heart surgery or stents *were* an option. (Note: neither of the cardiologists do surgery.) Which brought us to yesterday and heart surgeon #2. He came in, asked my grandma how she was feeling (okay, aside from being in the hospital — she had gotten up the night before and rearranged the furniture in her room) and how she was feeling before she had started having breathing problems (same as usual, fairly active for a 79 year old). And then heart surgeon #2 suggested trying to manage the situation with meds because, well, once you start down the path of surgeries, recovery will become another obstacle and maybe one worse than the occasional congestion. Which makes a certain kind of sense. So, we went from expecting Oma to have a procedure of some sort today to her probably coming home by the end of the week. This isn’t a cure; it’s a management situation.

Anyway, fearing really bad things, I flew to Omaha yesterday. I should have decided to do so over the weekend because booking Monday night and flying Tues was not ideal. From 7:30 (mountain time) until 17:00 (central time) I was in an air -plane or -port, making a stop over in Chicago. It is cold here in ways I had forgotten. Nonetheless, I’m glad I’m here.

Rosebuds

Thursday was a good day. Met up with Amy and Karen. I hadn’t seen them in *ages*. It was great catching up if only for a brief lunch. We’ll definitely have to do it again next year.

Came home to find, through the magic of Facebook, that Kris Stamp (the hard-working proprietor of StoneGarden.net Publishing) had updated the site with third quarter titles. Including Lucinda at the Window! I now have cover art and a release date!

I spent some of Thursday updating Katherine Nabity’s Delightful Webpages with all the goodies, adding them to the cover blurb:

cover art by Mia RomanoOhio, 1901 – Lucinda Harris had been haunted by childhood tragedy all her life and worked diligently to keep those memories deeply buried. While visiting the ancient manor home of her best friend, she spots a dark stranger one night on the lawn. She finds herself suddenly plunged into a nightmarish world. Has insanity finally taken Lucinda’s mind or is it something far more diabolical?

Something is amiss in the Manor, but none of the guests or the servants can pinpoint what it is. Lucinda is acting strangely; the groundskeeper has disappeared; a feeling of gloom hangs over everything. The answer to the mystery seems to lie in a worn journal found buried in the cellar. The entries become stranger and more terrifying as they read on, until it reveals the horrible truth about the Manor. Is there a connection between the two?

None of them could have predicted the strength of the force manipulating them all…or the wrath of a woman they all thought they knew.

Since Friday I’ve been working to update EntangledContinua with a new look. I should have it done by Tuesday.

Also went out Friday with Chad and Michelle for dinner at Baby Blue and finally had sushi I considered tasty. It’s still far from being a food I’d crave, but I’d happily eat there again.

Yesterday was Grandpa’s 82nd birthday. Alas, the goodness of the last few days and the impending cake and ice cream were marred by the usual fights that breakout when too much of my family gathers in one place. It all makes me very tired. I suppose that’s the way life balances though. I should take more pleasure from the things that are good because the bad has a tendency to eat on me.

Also, a couple links:
A Genetic Link Between Anorexia and Autism? – TIME
Kindle’s DRM Rears Its Ugly Head… And It IS Ugly | Gear Diary