Crooked River Burning

Written by Mark Winegardner
Review by Jean Langlais

Winegardner’s insightful and witty novel of Cleveland from 1948 to 1969 documents the decay of a great city and reveals much of what was best and worst in American cities during that period. The crooked river is the Cuyahoga which divides Cleveland in two, east and west, and which has in fact burned more than once in recent history. Though Cleveland is Winegardner’s main focus, Crooked River Burning is also the story of unlikely lovers David Zielinsky and Anne O’Connor. Because both parents abandoned David, his Aunt Betty and Uncle Stan raise him in a modest west side neighborhood. Anne, the fourth child of wealthy and politically powerful (former Cleveland mayor) Tom O’Connor, is growing up in the exclusive east side Shaker Lakes neighborhood.

As they mature and their relationship develops and changes, Winegardner reveals the character(s) of Cleveland in vivid detail. Eliot Ness, the Cleveland Indians, rock and roll, Moondoggers, Sam Sheperd, Dorothy Fuldheim, Louie Seltzer, Jim Brown and Carl Stokes, among others, leave their mark on the reader, as do racism, class distinction, corruption, politics, major league sports, pollution, and the legacy of the media.

Honest and uncompromising, warm and humorous, Crooked River Burning is a gem. This highly inventive and enjoyable novel is in a class of its own.