Short Reviews

Sophie by Guy Burt and Ready, Steady, Go! by Shawn Levy

By Guy Burt
(Ballantine, $12.95)

In terms of suspense, Sophie is a leap forward from Burt’s first novel, The Hole. It’s tighter, more sensible and much creepier. But Burt’s still quite young, and he hasn’t quite got the balance between suspense and revelation quite down.

The hardest part about reviewing this type of novel is that one doesn’t want to spill too many of the beans. The novel is alternately told in flashbacks and the first-person voices of Matthew Howard and his sister Sophie, two years his senior. As the book opens, the adult Mattie and Sophie are in a small house in the midst of a thunderstorm. Only Sophie’s duct-taped to a chair. Something happened in the past and we know Mattie’s been seeing a psychiatrist — he wants answers. But about what, we don’t know. Their childhoods were characterized by an unusual degree of freedom due to a reclusive mother who loses her third child to a mysterious crib death, and a largely absent, but highly-paid, father (who’s been having affairs, it is revealed in a outburst from the mother that Burt handles somewhat clumsily).

Overall, it’s a solid, well-constructed novel, but one of the main problems that lets the air out of the suspense is that Sophie’s revealed as a bad seed pretty much from the gate. Granted, what made her so is the main mystery of the narrative, but Burt’s tipping his hand so early doesn’t help the book. Even though Mattie seems to be the bad guy in the present, we know that Sophie’s driven him to whatever it is that he’s doing.

It’s important to remember that Burt wrote Sophie when he was 19, and that can explain some of the problems. But overall, it’s worth your time.

Ready, Steady, Go!: The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London
By Shawn Levy
(Broadway Books, $14.95)

Well, here it is: the real stories behind the Austin Powers b.s. Levy also wrote the excellent Rat Pack Confidential, and he’s grown as a chronicler of ’60s excess. Largely, the story of “Swinging London” is the story of two bands: the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Liverpudlians and Londoners; natural-born pop tunesmiths and wannabe bluesmen; excess and even greater excess. Ready, Steady, Go uses the two bands to frame the rest of the art, music and fashion world of the time (roughly 1964-1968) without slighting anyone. The worlds of the two bands are the background for everything else. Mostly, the other notable figures chronicled in the book are drawn to those two poles.

One of the best things about the book is, Levy avoids consideration of “what it all meant.” He’s not concerned with sociological pontificating — he just wants to present a thorough portrait. While there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interviews done specifically for this book, it’s still good reporting. Levy has obviously exhaustively researched his subject.

It’s also not as “fast” a read as one might imagine. Levy serves up a truckload of information, and it’s worth the time it takes to wade through it. RSG is a genuinely witty and amusing book; Levy doesn’t mock his subjects, but neither does he fall into the trap of idolizing them. He tends to give people as much respect as they’re due.

For anyone curious about the time, this is an excellent, concise history. Highly recommended.