LIVING IN CLEVELAND WITH THE GHOST OF JOSEPH STALIN
Marc Sercomb’s imaginative second novel seems to have been pulled straight from the summer of 1953 and serves as homage to that time, despite some touches of the absurd. Calvin Jefferson Coolidge is thirteen years old. His father is an inveterate gambler, and as for his mother, well, as he puts it “most people called her nuts.” After a stint in foster care, Calvin moves in with his Aunt Evelyn in Cleveland. Evelyn is a rough woman who has a taste for alcohol, suffers from agoraphobia, and tells Calvin to “fend for himself” when it comes to meals. His life in shambles, Calvin makes a surprising discovery in Aunt Evelyn’s cluttered attic, where he’s looking “for her lost husband’s cheap second-hand accordion.” There he meets the ghost of Joseph Stalin, who wants Calvin to write his memoirs--“to counteract all of the lies and false information perpetrated by my detractors and enemies!”
This would be enough to keep any kid occupied, but Calvin’s life is a maelstrom of weirdness even beyond Stalin. (His cousin reports being “abducted by men from Mars and taken up into their spaceship.) Still, as Calvin deals with a school psychologist and the lavish encouragement of an English teacher, the narrative’s emphasis lies in exploring childhood in the context of American suburbia in the 1950s. This is a story with soda jerks and beatniks in the streets and Howdy Doody and Senator McCarthy talking about communists on TV.
The humor and observations make this truly enjoyable beyond being an engaging slice of Americana. This is a funny story told in the energetic, curious voice of a teenager, but one with thoughts that will entertain adults. Sercomb’s novel will appeal to those who lived through the 1950s as well as those fascinated by that era.
Takeaway: A sharp teen voice drives this episodic, playfully ambitious novel of 1950s America.
-- BookLife Reviews
A first-class ‘metaphysical romp’ with perfect pacing. Five Stars.
Living in Cleveland With the Ghost of Joseph Stalin by Marc Sercomb is a wonderfully written and richly descriptive novel with brilliantly drawn characters and settings. The author weaves a well-crafted supernatural jape with a generous sprinkling of irony and wit. Intriguing twists and turns ensures that this book will captivate the reader from the first page to the last. I’ve read this author before and it’s safe to say that his storylines leave the reader spellbound. Marc Sercomb leaves the reader again mesmerized with his latest novel. From beginning to end, the author holds the reader’s interest.
I enjoyed the story, character development, and dialogue. There were plenty of plot twists that I didn’t see coming and that added to the book’s mystique. When I stopped reading to work, I found myself wondering what happened in the book, and replaying parts of the novel in my head to see if I could figure more out. It has been a while since I enjoyed a book this much. It’s a first-class coming of age ‘metaphysical romp’ with perfect pacing.
The contrast between tone and content is a characteristic talent of only a few authors. Sercomb pays as much attention to his sentences as he does to his plots, shifting or combining meaning with the use of a single word. His writing is impeccably honed, full of juxtapositions and qualifications that help to create a humorous atmosphere that will leave you laughing out loud. Highly recommended.
-- Emerald Book Reviews
"Humorous mishaps go hand in hand with an unflinching examination of life during WWII in Sercomb’s unputdownable historical novel. In 1936, orphaned Daniel moves in with his uncle Emile in the quiet village of Nulle, France. Being half-German causes unique challenges as Daniel adapts to life with his brusque uncle, but his situation improves after he befriends the local boys. The gift of a motorcycle that once belonged to Pablo Picasso sets Daniel off to pursue a career in racing amid the uncertainty of the German occupation. Needing money to pay the racing fees leads to a job in the circus, where Daniel accidentally joins the French Resistance.
Sercomb captures the reader’s imagination with the vivacious people of Nulle and their quirky daily routines. Emile’s efforts to purge Daniel of his “German-ness” are balanced by a stoic tenderness. Daniel’s escapades with his tormentor-turned-best-friend, Remy, are riotous. Village debates over the dangers of participating in a blood drive highlight the encroaching threat of war, although life retains some normality during the early years of German occupation—including Remy and Daniel’s pranks mocking the Germans.
The plot takes as many turns as a country road when Daniel leaves home to become a motorcycle racer. Pointed characterization, and crisp, uncluttered prose maintain good pacing with a looming sense of the unexpected. Classic coming-of-age elements such as first love and acceptance into a community lead into a stark, touching examination of trench warfare from an unusual angle. Appealing characters, startling plot twists, and a liberal dose of comedy make for a historical novel that’s as fun as it is illuminating.
Takeaway: Fans of WWII historical fiction will be delighted by the unorthodox blend of humor and somber realities in this coming-of-age story."
"A compelling and engaging character-driven story, readers of Sercomb's novel will find it to be well-paced and captivating, with a rich historical setting.
Sercomb's prose is heartfelt and purposeful without feeling overwrought. The diction and fluidity of the sentences elevates the story and complements the strength of Daniel's character well.
Daniel's character arc is poignant and moving, and readers will likely feel deeply connected to his story. The looming specter of war adds dramatic tension that enhances the story, while providing clearer motivations for the characters and their psychological states."
--The BookLife Prize
Picasso's Motorcycle by Marc Sercomb is a superbly written and richly descriptive novel with brilliantly drawn characters and settings. The threads of storytelling are expertly woven in this Historical Fiction that will guarantee the attention of the reader. Skillfully constructed, this quirky and heartwarming WWII tale will have you turning the pages from beginning to end. In addition, the characters are drawn with great credibility and conviction.
This was a fascinating and captivating read that had me immersed from the beginning. The story flowed from scene to scene with ease, and the author shows exceptional ability when it comes to storytelling. There are plenty of attention-grabbing moments in this page turner that will take the reader on a truly mesmerizing journey. It’s an epic tale of a young boy’s life, his survival, and his perseverance. Highly recommended!
-- Emerald Book Reviews