Last Update 7/24/23

Chernobyl by Frederik Pohl, Bantam, 1987

This was Pohl's fictional retelling of the disaster at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in what is now Ukraine, and its effects on the people who were working and living in the area. It is told primarily from the points of view of three characters, including a highly placed official, an engineer, and a doctor. He skillfully captures the sense of emergency and panic that resulted from the unexpected malfunction, although the novel does not cover a long enough period of time to address the aftermath. This was probably Pohl's longest novel, and in some ways the most ambitious, but it does not seem to have had much of an audience because it has been largely forgotten. 7/24/23

Nightmare Alley by William Lindsey Gresham, NYRB, 2020 (originally published in 1946)

This is an impressive if depressing novel of life in the world of carnivals, side shows, and confidence tricks disguised as entertainment. Stan joins a carnival as a young boy, supplementing his income by shortchanging customers. He acquires more dubious skills and has a reasonably successful career as a mentalist and magician. Eventually he decides upon a more ambitious swindle, but at the last minute one of his confederates blows the deal. He begins to deteriorate after that, becomes an alcoholic, cannot find work, and eventually rejoins the carnival as a geek. Very impressive novel. Gresham wrote a lot of nonfiction but never wrote anything else to rival this first novel. 7/5/23