Nasaw, Jonathan Lewis 1947-
NASAW, Jonathan Lewis 1947-
PERSONAL: Born August 26, 1947; son of Joshua J. (a lawyer) and Beatrice (a teacher; maiden name, Kaplan) Nasaw; married Soo Stone, June 22, 1969 (divorced January, 1973). Education: Attended University of Wisconsin, 1965–66; State University of New York—Stony Brook, B.A. Politics: "Not much." Religion: Arica.
ADDRESSES: Home—Pacific Grove, CA. Agent—c/o Simon & Schuster, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020.
CAREER: Teacher in Williamsport, PA, 1971–72; Wave (musical trio), St. Croix, Virgin Islands, bassman, 1973; Sundance (musical group), St. Croix, Virgin Islands, bassman and backup vocals, 1973; teacher of meditation at Arica Institute, 1973–.
Easy Walking, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1975.
West of the Moon, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1987.
Shakedown Street (young adult novel), Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.
The World on Blood, Dutton (New York, NY), 1996.
Shadows, Dutton (New York, NY), 1997.
The Girls He Adored, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.
Fear Itself, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2003.
Twenty-Seven Bones, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: A onetime bass player and vocalist, Jonathan Lewis Nasaw injected a good deal of autobiography into his first novel, Easy Walking. Since then his fiction has taken turns into the counterculture—Shakedown Street and West of the Moon—the farcical—The World on Blood—and the chilling—The Girls He Adored.
Both Shakedown Street and West of the Moon feature children in pivotal roles. Shakedown Street, a youngadult novel, is narrated by Caro Reilly, a teenage girl raised in a hippie commune who "learned fractions by helping a dope-peddler measure his powder in kilos, pounds and ounces," as a Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer noted. Her panhandling journeys with her mother take Caro to northern California, where her adventures include fending off assault and being rescued from a life of prostitution. Writing in Booklist, Sheilamae O'Hara called the novel "a fascinating look at the culture of the homeless, an engrossing and believable story line, and a memorable heroine." In West of the Moon, Nasaw presents five-year-old Danny, who has an incurable disease, an unmarried mother who wants to make his last months memorable, and a father suing to keep the boy in the hospital to undergo yet more traumatic treatment. The mother steals the boy away to a hospice in San Francisco where they form a new kind of family with a disabled Vietnam veteran as father figure. Sybil Steinberg of Publishers Weekly lauded the novel as "an outstanding tale of love and living, told in a gentle and lyric voice that never falters."
Nasaw's 1996 release, The World on Blood, explores yet another subset of Bay Area society: vampires. A "wryly horrific riff on self-help," according to the critic for Publishers Weekly, the novel follows a group of remorseful neck-biters as they form the Vampires Anonymous (V.A.) recovery group and develop a 12-step program (motto: "One day at a time … forever") to kick their addiction. The monkey-wrench in this machinery is vampire Jamey Whistler, who comes to reject V.A. and schemes to draw its members back into the bloodsucking fold.
"Nasaw pulls this off with a light touch, and The World on Blood offers enough zigs and zags … to keep you turning the pages," stated Chris Petrakos in his Chicago Tribune Books review. Joe Queenan, as well, had praise for The World on Blood. "Much as [director] Martin Scorsese did in his film Goodfellas," wrote Queenan in the New York Times Book Review, the author "tries to humanize his implausible, charismadeficient characters by showing them both at work and at play: dining, watching Gerard Depardieu movies, shopping for baby clothing."
In The Girls He Adored, Nasaw writes of Casey, a serial killer who preys on strawberry blondes, the federal agent who is doggedly tracking him down, and Dr. Cogan, a female doctor who tries to cure Casey of multiple personalities. When Casey is finally caught during a routine traffic stop, he breaks out of jail and kidnaps Dr. Cogan. The writer for Kirkus Reviews called the novel "relentlessly sadistic." George Needham in Booklist found that "Nasaw has created a terrifying character in Casey," while the critic for Publishers Weekly believed that "readers should get their blood-money's worth out of this twisted tale." Writing for BookBrowser, Harriet Klausner noted Nasaw's homage to Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter character, "yet fans of serial killers will read this novel on its own merit."
In Fear Itself, Nasaw offers a "polished, tongue-in-cheek thriller" with a new twist on the idea of the serial killer, noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Simon Childs is a serial killer with a pointedly sadistic method of operation: he chooses victims who are severely phobic and kills them by means related to the objects or situations that terrify them the most. At the novel's opening, Childs's latest target is Done Bell, suffering under an intense fear of masks. The suspicious Bell had recently sent a letter to the FBI about the unusual deaths of a number of her phobic friends. The letter reaches agent Linda Abruzzi, recently reassigned to desk duty because of physical limitations, and her retired boss, Ed Pender. Pender manages to save Bell at the last minute, but loses Childs in the chaos. Once safely out of reach, Childs decides that his pursuers need to be taught not to interfere with him, and he slowly works his way across the country from California to FBI headquarters, where a confrontation awaits. The Publishers Weekly critic remarked that "the murder scenes are entertaining in a sly, cheeky fashion, and the crackling dialogue between Pender and Abruzzi gives extra life to the chase scenes." Nasaw "succeeds in breathing a bit of new life and death into a formula that must be almost played out by now," commented reviewer Judith Cutler on the ShotsMag Web site.
Pender travels to the deceptively beautiful town of St. Luke in the Virgin Islands to hunt for a particularly cruel serial killer in Twenty-Seven Bones. The Machete Man, as the killer is known, tortures his victims, cuts off their right hand, and leaves them to slowly bleed to death. As it turns out, the killer is not a single individual but a husband and wife team of anthropologists, Phil and Emily Epps, who believe that their own lives can be extended by breathing in the final, dying breath of their victims. The Epps become involved with a local rich scoundrel, Lewis Apguard, who needs his wife killed so that he can proceed with a lucrative land deal. As the overweight and disheveled Pender struggles to cope with tropical heat, he focuses his suspicions on the Epps, but pinning anything on them proves more difficult. The situation worsens when Apguard and Epps take Pender prisoner and snatch a child hostage in an attempt to escape. "Nasaw is such a clever writer that it's hard not to root for all his quirky characters, including the Epps," despite their unremitting evil, remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The novel is "loaded with suspense and packed with unique and engaging characters," commented Library Journal reviewer Jo Ann Vicarel. The book's title refers to the number of bones in a human hand, and the book is "unsparingly gruesome in places," observed a Kirkus Reviews contributor. "Still, it's a colorful cast, sharply observed and wittily presented."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, December 15, 1993, Sheilamae O'Hara, review of Shakedown Street, p. 747; November 15, 2000, George Needham, review of The Girls He Adored, p. 623; May 1, 2004, David Pitt, review of Twenty-Seven Bones, p. 1515.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2000, review of The Girls He Adored, p. 1511; April 15, 2004, review of Twenty-Seven Bones, p. 356.
Library Journal, May 15, 2004, Jo Ann Vicarel, review of Twenty-Seven Bones, p. 116.
New York Times Book Review, April 28, 1996, Joe Queenan, review of The World on Blood, p. 38.
Publishers Weekly, August 14, 1987, Sybil Steinberg, review of West of the Moon, p. 95; March 4, 1996, review of The World on Blood, p. 54; October 23, 2000, review of The Girls He Adored, p. 61; January 13, 2003, review of Fear Itself, p. 42; April 19, 2004, review of Twenty-Seven Bones, p. 36.
Science-Fiction Chronicle, August, 1999, review of Shadows, p. 43.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), April 21, 1996, Chris Petrakos, review of The World on Blood, p. 7.
Voice of Youth Advocates, October, 1993, review of Shakedown Street, p. 218.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (September 5, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of The Girls He Adored; Andrea Barnes, review of The Girls He Adored; Harriet Klausner, review of Twenty-Seven Bones.
BookBrowser, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (October 29, 2000), Harriet Klausner, review of The Girls He Adored.
Bookreporter.com, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 5, 2005), Joe Hartlaub, review of Twenty-Seven Bones.
Curled up with a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/ (September 5, 2005), review of Fear Itself; review of Twenty-Seven Bones.
ShotsMag, http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (September 5, 2005), Judith Culter, review of Fear Itself; L. J. Hurst, review of Twenty-Seven Bones.