By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
The book also suffers from an occasional lapse into pedantry, mostly when Hamill strays too far from the subjects he knows best -- Sinatra, jazz, New York City, boxing, saloons, politics. A disquisition on the plight of Italian immigrants, for instance, slips into blowhard tendentiousness. ("Americans didn't like Italians. An American was supposed to be white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. He was supposed to come from northern Europe.") In the process, Hamill asserts that Italian Unification took place in 1871 -- 10 years after the actual date.
Such shortcomings, however, should not obscure Hamill's achievement. By and large, he succeeds -- convincingly, with natty aplomb -- in explaining why Sinatra, even now, still matters.
WHY SINATRA MATTERS By PETE HAMILL | Little Brown 185 pages | $18 hardcover
SINATRALAND | By SAM KASHNER The Overlook Press | 192 pages $23 hardcover
OBSESSIONS ARE BY NATURE STRANGE AND HIGHLY personal. Many people, it seems, experience these intense preoccupations -- with a musician, a movie star, or any unattainable object -- during adolescence, a time when such single-minded ardor is seen as acceptable, even necessary. Eventually, real passions and responsibilities take over most lives, and the former source of infinite fascination is relegated to the land of nostalgia. But some people just can't seem to get beyond their obsessions; their point of reference remains entirely tied to that unattainable someone.
Sinatraland's Finkie Finkelstein is such a man; his life -- as the title of this first novel by Sam Kashner suggests -- is an homage to his hero, Frank Sinatra. "It's Frank's world," Finkie declares. "We only live in it." The story is told as a series of letters from Finkie, who lives in New Jersey and sells window shades for a living, to his idol, who never writes back. Finkie marries a Sinatra fan, names their daughter Nancy Ava, loves every terrible Sinatra film ever made and writes, "William Shakespeare doesn't deserve to carry your jockstrap." He's a disturbed man whose obsession is in one way or another responsible for his life's many ruinous turns.
If nothing else, Finkie's voice is authentic. "Like you, Frank," he observes, "I know a lot of people but no one knows me." A capable writer, Kashner does a good job of conveying the hollowness of Finkie's existence -- a little too good: By its midpoint the book is as tedious and dreary as Frank's life is glamorous. Kashner picks up the pace near the end, when Finkie finally achieves the goal of his life, and also his greatest fear: He meets Old Blue Eyes himself. It's a terrible day that leaves Finkie more desolate -- and desperate -- than ever. This reader kept hoping Finkie would come to his senses. He never does. Consequently, Sinatralandnever transcends its inherent frustrations.