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In his seventh novel set in the fictional town of Raysburg, West Virginia, Maillard brings home the warmth of community in his heartfelt depiction of a depressed war vet who is saved by the red-hot music of an all-girl polka band. Jimmy Koprowski returns from his stint in the air force in 1969 consigned to his boyhood attic bedroom and a minimum-wage job at a TV repair shop. He drifts into an alcohol-fueled, sexually charged affair with a doctor's wife and engages in ongoing arguments about his "life plan" with his hardworking dad, whom he not so affectionately refers to as Old Bullet Head. Jimmy pretty much thinks that a couple fifths of Jack Daniel's and a case of beer will help him reintegrate himself into civilian life. Then his ethnomusicologist sister decides to start an all-girl polka band, and that's when he meets singer Janice Dluwiecki. Things suddenly start to look a whole lot brighter. Maillard invests Jimmy with a narrative voice so easy on the ears, you could listen to it for far longer than the book's length. This hilarious, often sentimental novel is ultimately a joyous, foot-stomping celebration of the human spirit, all the more special because it is presented in the unlikely guise of Jimmy Koprowski stepping right along to a terrific polka groove. Joanne Wilkinson
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Maillard (Gloria) turns the spotlight on the Polish-American community in fictional Raysburg, W.Va., a steel town modeled after his native Wheeling and the setting for six of his previous novels. Discharged in 1969 after serving in Guam, noncombatant Vietnam-era vet Jimmy Koprowski returns to his parents' house and his old childhood bedroom ("the sloped ceiling is covered with all the Playboy centerfolds I taped up in high school, and if you can imagine anything more depressing than Miss November from 1960, then tell me about it"). He takes a job doing TV repairs for "a couple cents above minimum wage" and tries to readjust to the smallness of life in Raysburg, mainly through excessive boozing and sordid back-alley trysts. After an erotic encounter outside the local mall, Jimmy gets caught up in a messy affair with a neurotic society matron named Connie. The last straw for his jangled nerves comes when his 21-year-old sister, Linda, also living at home, decides to take up the trumpet and start an all-girl polka band. Jimmy finds himself playing chauffeur to 15-year-old clarinet virtuoso Janice Dluwiekis, the goody-two-shoes daughter of a prominent accountant and the star of Linda's band. The engrossing tale traces Jimmy's losing struggle to tame his drinking as his carnal obsession with Connie and his disturbing feelings for the innocent Janice spiral out of control. Jimmy is a wry, down-to-earth, irresistible narrator, and Maillard draws all the characters in the working-class community with compassion and obvious affection. This moving, well-drawn story of sin and redemption in a fading industry town may remind readers of Richard Russo. (Mar. 1) Forecast: A regional author tour will give The Clarinet Polka a local boost, but word of mouth and bookseller attention (both likely to be forthcoming) will be key in getting it noticed elsewhere. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Jimmy Koprowski seems like just another loser. Back home in Raysburg, WV, in 1969 after four years in the air force, he's mourning a buddy killed in Vietnam, drinking too much, working in a TV repair shop when he isn't too hung over, and sleeping with a sexy married woman he doesn't even much like. Then his younger sister, Linda, pulls him into her plans to form an all-girl polka band in their Polish American community. Jimmy is soon chauffeuring one of Linda's recruits, 15-year-old Janice Dluwiecki, a talented clarinetist whose blonde perfection is too much for his tastes. But as the two spend time together, Janice becomes infatuated, and Jimmy ends up falling in love with a teenager ten years his junior. To keep from touching her, he takes off, hitting bottom with booze before finally figuring out where he belongs. Maillard, who explored the country club set in Gloria, has once again written an absolutely captivating novel, this time a warm and wonderful story of reconciliation and redemption, chock-full of memorable characters and true to its time and place. In its portrayal of Polish Americans, it is also a celebration of heritage in general-but if you aren't at least part Polish, after reading this you may wish you were. Enthusiastically recommended for all fiction collections.-Michele Leber, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.