An ambitious account explores a prominent journalist’s brilliant career after World War II.
Artist and writer Nieman (The Wrong Number One, 2008, etc) had an idea: why not produce a fictional biography, but have that character’s life intersect with real people and events? Thus was born – in North St. Louis – Charles “Chaz” Conner (1926-2015). His father, Jack, deserts the family in the Depression, so Chaz and his mother, Lucy, soldier on, each other’s best friend. Chaz, who is wounded in World War II, recovers after a long convalescence and he gets hired upon graduation by the Chicago Tribune. Before long, he becomes a popular columnist and rising star on the the Chicago scene. He marries well. Two children are born (his son will be killed in Vietnam). But much as Chaz loves print journalism, Roone Arledge, the president of ABC News, lures him away, offering him his own TV newsmagazine (think 60 Minutes). The ABC show is called What’s Next?, which which could easily be Chaz’s own mantra. He’s on a first-name basis with all of the powerful politicians and show business celebrities (well, he;s a celebrity himself). On 9/11, he is first on the scene at ground zero, covered in ash. Nieman runs the man’s life almost like a puppet master, sometimes making interjections. This is also a chance for the author to editorialize – Chaz is slightly off center – and offer judicious commentaries on the passing scene. There is a trade-off in focusing on the public man and scanting his private life. Without a lot of lead-in, for example, readers are told that Chaz’s long first marriage is ending in a “messy” divorce. And except for that breakup and his son’s death, Chaz leads an overly charmed life, just one sweet victory after another., which makes him seem almost callous – a man whose career always comes first. But the absorbing volume gives the reader sense of spending a long afternoon watching newsreels as the decades cascade.
An enjoyable book that delivers an engaging story and a vivid look at modern American culture.
Review by Kirkus Reviews