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Stunning Debuts

Two first novels worth picking up.

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Jonah Doyle lives a lonely life. When his emotionally distant mother dies, he focuses on finding the older brother she gave up for adoption. The brother, Troy Timmons, is abandoned by his drug-addicted wife and must care for his son, Loomis, by himself. While both characters seem to cry out for each other, their personalities block any real connection. Told in alternating flashbacks, the narrative structure forces the reader to experience each of the character's lives at different, pivotal moments. Chaon's ability to guide the reader through a maze of complex and conflicting human psychology makes the novel incredibly insightful and poignant.

Robert Kurson's breathtaking first nonfiction book, "Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II" (Random House), takes you to the bottom of the ocean. John Chatterton and Richie Kohler are two people addicted to the hazardous sport of wreck diving. Together they have explored some of the deepest and most dangerous shipwrecks in the world. But it isn't until they stumble across the remains of a German submarine 60 miles off the Jersey shore that they are fully challenged. While their six-year expedition claims the lives of three other divers, they are able to solve the mystery of the fate of the Type XI U-boat U-869.

Written with the same intense and compelling style as Jon Krakauer, "Shadow Divers" shows the bravery and skill required to survive at depths of 230 feet. Kurson explains enough so that those who've never put on a scuba mask can understand his subject, but he doesn't bog down the reader with unneeded technical details. In the end, Kurson's tale is more exciting than any Tom Clancy novel, making it a must-read for any thrill-seeker. S

Head's Up: Former Richmond resident John Bensko will read from his short story collection, "Sea Dogs" at Fountain Bookstore, 1312 E. Cary St., on Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m. For more information call 788-1594.

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