Iowa-based Larry Baker has authored six novels. That alone is noteworthy. What's equally remarkable is that in his most recent, Harry and Sue: A Story of Love and Ghosts, Baker's adroit imagination offers readers what feels like several narratives blended as one.

Larry Baker Blends Mystery, Ghost Stories, Love and Death in Novel Harry and Sue

Harry and Sue: A Story of Love and Ghosts (C) Ice Cube Press

A love story is at the center of this tale, and it's a love story anchored by coming-of-age motifs for characters Harry Mason and Sue; it's also a ghost story with a rotating cast of American icons coming and going, as their otherworldly spectral selves float in and out of the storyline; finally, it's an elegiac prose portrait of lives yearning for answers to the ultimate mysteries of time, death, and love.

Immediately, on page one, the audacious narrator begins boldly with this line: "My name is Harry Mason, and I drive a taxi. This is a story about when I kissed Marilyn Monroe, sang songs with Harry Chapin and Patsy Cline, did rope tricks with Will Rogers, and watched Harry Houdini die. But they aren't the important story. No, that's about Sue, how I lost her, how I got her back. This is a love story. But I should warn you . . . it's also a ghost story."

None of those allusions are random.

In a boarded-up, abandoned old theater in Oklahoma City, the story at the heart of this richly imagined novel offers a stage upon which legendary singers Patsy Cline and Harry Chapin perform as a duo, while at other times Marilyn Monroe takes charge.

To avoid all spoilers, I'll say that in the wrong hands, these imported cultural icons could come off as slices of cheesy nostalgia – but, instead, due to Baker's serious undertones and control of his material, the personae in these cameos come alive as luminous characters.

Harry and Sue Is An Ode to 20th-Century Hollywood: Marilyn Monroe, Harry Chapin, Karen Carpenter and More

This is particularly good news in regard to the vibrantly imagined reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe presented here.

Contrary to the victim status that Monroe has been reduced to in others' works, the Marilyn seen here corresponds to the smart, studious, funny, brave, ambitious, and savvy self-made woman who in the 1950s had the guts to challenge Hollywood norms and go her own way. She's an archetypal maverick.

Just as compelling in this novel is the ghost of Harry "Cat's in the Cradle" Chapin, whose classic song "Taxi" is hinted at in the novel's title, which is illustrated by a rarely seen photo of Marilyn in a big-city cab.

A stunning array of details about the short lives, profound legacies, truncated careers, and unique talents of Chapin and Monroe enhance this allegorical novel. A shifting flow of milestones in Americana give this story recognizable signposts in what emerges as a narrative fever-dream.

On one level, this straightforward story can be synthesized: Harry Mason's a cabbie still obsessed with his long-ago girlfriend Sue. She transformed his youth, prior to lighting out for Hollywood. In a nutshell, she never returned to their Heartland locale.

On another level, the story here is literally on another level: Magical realism abounds as the narrator finds himself, on a rainy night, meeting legend after legend in the empty theater serving as a Valhalla for artists.

There's a particularly elegant evocation of the late, great Karen Carpenter. Her voice is recaptured poignantly in a fleeting scene.

Harry and Sue As Memory Novel

Harry and Sue is a memory novel, just as surely as Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is a "memory play." In this book, handsomely published by Ice Cube Press, it is narrator Harry Mason who runs the show.

And it's a boldly imaginative show of shows in prose fiction. The Harry-and-Sue story is enlarged and enhanced not just by Marilyn, Harry Chapin and Patsy Cline, but also by deft echoes in the novel's realm from Mark Twain, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Houdini, and others.

Larry Baker's Harry and Sue possesses, in fact, the imaginative scope of Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and the final sentence encapsulating life and death in Baker's novel reverberates: "All I can tell you is that it is nothing like you imagine."

Memories of Harry Chapin: Pat Fenton's Searching For Harry Chapin's America Now In AudioBook Via Audible

Two years ago, Honeysuckle marked the 40th anniversary of the tragic early death of humanitarian troubadour Harry Chapin (he was 38) with a review of New York writer Pat Fenton's book Searching for Harry Chapin's America ~ Remember When the Music.

Now, the AudioBook is available through Audible! Searching for Harry Chapin's America is the first AudioBook produced by Naomi Rosenblatt's Heliotrope Books, and it was nominated in May for the Independent Book Publishers Association Gold Award.

Musical artist David Amram narrates the pages written by the late Pat Fenton in his elegiac 2021 book about Chapin. The narration is complemented by Amram's exquisite piano playing. And actor/director Mary Tierney (a major figure at the Theater for the New City in Greenwich Village, where she facilitates weekly workshops) lends her voice(s) to varied women in Pat Fenton's narrative.

Click here to enjoy a 4-minute free sample via Audible!  Fenton's unique book highlights the true-life people and the real places behind Harry Chapin's epic songs. This new AudioBook is the ultimate tribute.

Larry Baker's HARRY AND SUE is now available from Ice Cube Press. Pat Fenton's SEARCHING FOR HARRY CHAPIN'S AMERICA is now available in AudioBook from Audible, and from Heliotrope Books.

M. J. Moore contributes to HoneySuckle Magazine. His new book (published on June 6th) is titled STAR-CROSSED LOVERS ~ James Jones, Lowney Handy, and the Birth of 'From Here to Eternity'. You can purchase Moore's latest novel here.

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Featured image: Larry Baker (left); HARRY AND SUE book cover (right) (C) Ice Cube Press