Cronkite

With many now getting their news from comics like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the presence of a respected newsman regularly delivering nightly news may seem an outdated medium, but in his biography – Cronkite – Douglas Brinkley humanizes a legend. The size of this book can be intimidating – over two inches thick, a companion to a good Oxford dictionary, but two sixteen-page inserts of photographs might be a good place to start.

In the first 50 pages – “The Making of a Reporter,” Brinkley touches on Cronkite’s Missouri roots, high school graduation in Houston, the influence of Edward R. Murrow and Lowell Thomas, and young Cronkite’s first love (before meeting his wife). His research delivers scripts from Cronkite’s early radio and sports reporting, foreshadowing a career as “The Most Trusted Man in America.”

The next 5 chapters document Cronkite’s life and career through World War II, the moon landing, the death of President Kennedy, the Vietnam war, and finally “Retirement Blues” at 64 years old. Brinkley conveniently prefaces each chapter with a list of its subtopics, effectively summarizing the key points. As I am reading, I find myself skipping around, looking for topics that interest me – in no particular chronological order. No matter what point in history, Brinkley manages to insert anecdotes about Cronkite that place him not only reporting but also shaping events. Cronkite’s bugging of a political convention room surprised me.

Although written in an easy to digest conversational style, Brinkley’s biography is complete and, subsequently, a long slow read. This history lesson across decades chronicles important events through the life of the newsman who had “accuracy, timeliness, and the trust of the audience.”

I’m enjoying getting to know the man behind the desk, who always looked the same, no matter what his age. As he reminded viewers daily with his signature sign-off,

“And that’s the way it is.”

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Amy and Nick were the perfect couple, beautiful former New York writers, about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, when the world falls apart and Amy disappears in Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller – Gone Girl.

Flynn begins the story as a romance – a marriage with some problems. Amy and Nick have moved to Nick’s boyhood home in Missouri after the recession hit and Nick lost his job. Using what’s left of Amy’s trust-fund – from her parents’ popular children’s books series “Amazing Amy” loosely based on Amy’s life –  he opens a bar with his twin sister in a town far away from the East Coast buzz. As the chapters alternate between Nick’s eye-witness account, starting with the day Amy is found missing, and Amy’s journal – backtracking to the day they met – Flynn lulls the reader into what seems to be an innocuous crime story of a missing wife. It doesn’t take long to realize that neither Amy nor Nick are who they seem to be, and that their marriage is no longer an ideal relationship. Both are lying; both have secrets. Flynn dangles the lies and contrives an intricate pattern of malevolence.

When you find out who is telling the bigger lies, the action becomes riveting. Under suspicion for killing his wife (the husband is always the first suspect), Nick faces the wrath of his in-laws, his hometown, and the general public (courtesy of TV talk shows).  Flynn adds a treasure hunt with incriminating letters and Amy’s multiple choice life options (a reference to her former job creating Sunday supplement psychological quizzes) to fuel the action with sociopathic twists and psychological drama.

Then, the story turns – into a fractured “The Talented Mr. Ripley” theme.   The ending is not satisfying; it was creepy and full of malice.  The possibilities that Flynn creates for the future include a morose cliffhanger that would be better left unresolved… a tantalizing study of amorality in characters whom anyone would avoid, if they only knew the truth.