Josiah's Reviews > Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty Told Me

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle and Other Lies Muscle Man McGinty ... by Nan Marino
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's review
Jan 26, 2010

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Read from January 26 to 27, 2010

Every once in a while—how far apart is impossible to predict—a character in a novel will come who is unique, and special, and somehow digs deep into a person's heart and mind to make a permanent home there. This is the case with Muscle Man McGinty. I can't really even put my finger on why I found him to be so endearing; it's one of those visceral things that just is, that one doesn't question, because its reality is so certain.

In my view, this entire book flows from the character of Muscle Man. The writing is tremendous and fresh, quickly but casually filling in all the major details of the main protagonist Tammy's life so that we become totally comfortable with her and her neighborhood in a mere matter of minutes. Tammy is none too happy about the boy upon whom she hangs the backhanded "Muscle Man" nickname. She sees him primarily as the kid who moved into Mrs. Kutchner's foster home right after Tammy's best friend Kebsie Grobser had to move away without notice, as usurping the small space in the neighborhood that Kebsie had turned into her own. Worse yet, Muscle Man's tall tales make Tammy angry, since everyone in the neighborhood but her seems to fall for them.

So, what is that gives Muscle Man McGinty the redeeming charm that makes him irresistible? Well, things certainly are not all as they seem with this boy, as Tammy comes to find out over time. Her path to understanding isn't clear, nor easy, and it isn't at all complete, but the path is definitely there, and winds its way through the story with a refreshing affection that is rare, down to its most basic grassroots. So much is left unanswered and unsolved, at least not answered to the extent that one might expect, but that's just what life is like, and I love the way that author Nan Marino respects the characters that she so lovingly created by allowing them the gift of a real-life finish.

The issues dealt with in Neil Armstrong is My Uncle are relevant to all of our lives. Tammy, Muscle Man and all of the people involved face a world of unexpected and often sudden pain, but realize that they aren't alone in the experience of their loneliness; they have the option of confronting their sadness as a group, not having to only mourn for what came before but being able to eventually move forward if they should so choose, holding out the hand of friendship to others even while knowing that things will never be just the way they were before. Things can, however, become bearable again, if they're willing to let that happen.

The tender action of the story takes place in front of the backdrop of two historical events that have altered America: Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon, and the Vietnam War. Both parts of this come into play in Neil Armstrong is My Uncle in major ways, and help us to see both the historical events themselves and the book's plot with a sharper degree of focus. This story probably would not have been as successful were it not for the sensitive portrayal of the deep effect that these events had on people, and especially the people in the book.

Neil Armstrong is My Uncle is the debut published offering from Nan Marino, and I want to say above all that I really loved it. I'm sure that my review doesn't do justice to the story, but this is the kind of book that is difficult to really get a hold on, or to explain to others what makes it so good. I can only say that I emerge from reading it better as a whole than I was before, and that there is so much about these characters that I will always remember, and hold dear. No matter what.

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01/26/2010 page 2
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