Cities of Men: A Novel

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William Jensen’s Cities of Men manages the remarkable in that it makes you care about a horrible character. In the novel, twelve-year-old Cooper Balsam struggles alongside his father, Percy, to understand the disappearance of his mother, Arden. She’s left a farewell note saying only that she has “gone off on an adventure,” but what may be an experience of joy and excitement for her has left the two men in her life rudderless and afraid.

Percy, a Vietnam vet suffering from PTSD, is torn between searching for his wife to bring her home to the life they’ve built together and throwing up his hands for good. Arden has run off before, and Percy senses there’s something she wants, something she needs, that he will never be able to give her. As Cooper reads Arden’s high school diary, he tries to piece together the puzzle of his mother. In it, she writes of the land she’s grown up on being a desert “in more ways than one,” and Cooper believes that line may be a key to unlocking the mystery of her disappearance.

Cities of Men has moments of great tension, especially scenes that focus on Cooper’s relationship with a neighborhood bully named Donald, but when Cooper speaks to adults his language often sounds forced, like he’s trying to be a grown up—whatever that means. The conclusion of the novel, which I found a bit unsatisfying, is nonetheless realistic in that it reminds us we shouldn’t search for answers we aren’t ready to hear, and that sometimes loving someone isn’t enough to make them stay.

Reviewed By:

Author William Jensen
Star Count /5
Format Trade
Page Count 256 pages
Publisher Turner
Publish Date 2017-May-23
ISBN 9781683366669 Buy this Book
Issue August 2017
Category Modern Literature


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