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Cities of Men

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In 1987, twelve-year-old Cooper Balsam's mother, Arden, disappears without a trace. Cooper's father, Percy, a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD, doesn't seem too concerned. "This isn't the first time. She's done it before." As days pass, Cooper begins to act out and withdraw from the world, and his growing animosity toward his father's ambivalence begins to escalate eve In 1987, twelve-year-old Cooper Balsam's mother, Arden, disappears without a trace. Cooper's father, Percy, a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD, doesn't seem too concerned. "This isn't the first time. She's done it before." As days pass, Cooper begins to act out and withdraw from the world, and his growing animosity toward his father's ambivalence begins to escalate even as Percy and Cooper begin to actively search for the woman in their lives. From the hills of Southern California, to the deserts of Arizona, and down to the beaches of Mexico, the father and son will look for someone who may not want to be found for reasons they don't yet understand.


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In 1987, twelve-year-old Cooper Balsam's mother, Arden, disappears without a trace. Cooper's father, Percy, a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD, doesn't seem too concerned. "This isn't the first time. She's done it before." As days pass, Cooper begins to act out and withdraw from the world, and his growing animosity toward his father's ambivalence begins to escalate eve In 1987, twelve-year-old Cooper Balsam's mother, Arden, disappears without a trace. Cooper's father, Percy, a Vietnam veteran struggling with PTSD, doesn't seem too concerned. "This isn't the first time. She's done it before." As days pass, Cooper begins to act out and withdraw from the world, and his growing animosity toward his father's ambivalence begins to escalate even as Percy and Cooper begin to actively search for the woman in their lives. From the hills of Southern California, to the deserts of Arizona, and down to the beaches of Mexico, the father and son will look for someone who may not want to be found for reasons they don't yet understand.

30 review for Cities of Men

  1. 5 out of 5

    Irene

    Cooper, up until this point has been living an unremarkable life. His parents are neither rich nor poor, his house neither big nor small. His mother Arden seems to long for the finer things, not just for herself but she wants Cooper to want them for himself as well. His dad is a hard worker, and seems to be a good father and husband. One day 12 year old Cooper and his father Percy come home from a movie to an empty house. Cooper's mom is gone. A note simply stating "good-bye. I've gone off on an Cooper, up until this point has been living an unremarkable life. His parents are neither rich nor poor, his house neither big nor small. His mother Arden seems to long for the finer things, not just for herself but she wants Cooper to want them for himself as well. His dad is a hard worker, and seems to be a good father and husband. One day 12 year old Cooper and his father Percy come home from a movie to an empty house. Cooper's mom is gone. A note simply stating "good-bye. I've gone off on an adventure" is all she left behind. She didn't even bother to sign it. Cooper is understandably shaken. He's also angry that his father Percy doesn't seem to share his concern. His attitude is "she's done it before" and he tells Cooper she'll be back. As the days go by without Arlen's return, Cooper's anger needs an outlet and he begins to act out in inappropriate ways. He has nobody he can really confide in since his mother is the one he always felt able to talk to. He has no close friends, only the neighborhood ne'er-do-well who is a poor choice and a worse influence. The tension builds as Percy and Cooper begin searching for Arlen. This was a tense but not over emotional read, touching on the subjects of depression, PTSD and parental relationships. It makes you wonder how much you really know about your parents, and how much you would really want to know. I received an advance copy for review

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lawton Cook

    Cities of Men captivated me from the first page. Jensen introduces his characters in the rain, and the emotional storm of the novel never lets up. The story saddens page by page, examining big subjects like the effects of war and parental neglect, but the novel has plenty of bright spots as well. The characters Jensen has created are enjoyable to read, and it's obvious he has been working with these characters for quite some time. Coop is a first rate lens through which to view the world, and th Cities of Men captivated me from the first page. Jensen introduces his characters in the rain, and the emotional storm of the novel never lets up. The story saddens page by page, examining big subjects like the effects of war and parental neglect, but the novel has plenty of bright spots as well. The characters Jensen has created are enjoyable to read, and it's obvious he has been working with these characters for quite some time. Coop is a first rate lens through which to view the world, and the father character and Sebastian add indispensable wisdom and wit, respectively. Even the characters that you are often invited to hate are written with such delicacy that your heart breaks for them, inviting you to see each of them as the protagonist of another story. The novel remains vivid and engaging all the way to the end, only gaining momentum with each chapter. Just when you think the resolution is surely coming, Jensen doubles down, making you squirm just long enough so that you feel what Coop is feeling. And this is the essential point, and what we should value in good fiction. Jensen makes us feel the pain of his characters. He doesn't shy away from hard moments, or try to direct to something easy or pretty; he takes Coop and his father to their breaking point and asks them to respond. This examination of emotional hurt and shame is where we see the heart in each character. The pain in a story is where everything takes shape—it's what produces change and explains actions even years down the road. Without feeling that pain, the story is flat, pointless, and not even worth reading. Fortunately for us, this story was crafted by a gifted storyteller. I'm excited to see what's next from William Jensen.

  3. 5 out of 5

    C H

    I have a feeling that this debut novel of William's is only the tip of the ice berg, for the amount and depth of the stories he has yet to share with us. I was profoundly moved by Cities of Men, and not just because of the amazingly coincidental setting that the majority of this story takes place in -- the very streets, and restaurants, and town that I grew up in. Such familiarity was quick to pull at my heart strings. But beyond this real landscape, the literary landscape I found to be just as I have a feeling that this debut novel of William's is only the tip of the ice berg, for the amount and depth of the stories he has yet to share with us. I was profoundly moved by Cities of Men, and not just because of the amazingly coincidental setting that the majority of this story takes place in -- the very streets, and restaurants, and town that I grew up in. Such familiarity was quick to pull at my heart strings. But beyond this real landscape, the literary landscape I found to be just as rich with emotion. With straight-cut, refreshing prose, Mr. Jensen shines a light onto the best and worst of humanity. From the brutal, hellish past that seems to haunt Percy's character, to a similar brutality found in his instinct as a father. Then there's his wife's complete absence to all things other than herself. And smack dab in the center, is a young boy simply trying to make sense of it all. Cities of Men is a deep and heavy novel, perfect for readers like myself, who take great strides at finding such stories. But the value contained within its pages goes much further than pure entertainment. In fact, I think anybody who has yet to be a parent, but is considering such colossal undertaking, should carefully read this book. Being a good parent requires a massive amount of emotional and physical generosity. A good parent would be anything but selfish of these characteristics. And in Cities of Men, Mr. Jensen brilliantly illustrates just how powerful such "parental shortcomings" are to the mind of a young child. That alone was the clincher for me. Cities of Men -- an exceptional novel well worth reading.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bobby O'Mara

    A fantastic story. Thank you William Jensen!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Church

    I was really impressed with this book. It is about Cooper and his father. His mother Arden just decides to leave without any notice. The book is written from Coopers point of view and you can feel his heartbreak and struggles as he goes through this difficult time in his like. Very well written. This book will capture your heart.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I'm starting to give myself a little time before writing reviews for books to let the narrative settle a bit. Otherwise, I jump the gun sometimes and write "it was so good, read it!" reviews. That's usually true, but this book in particular was definitely one that I sped through because it was indeed an easy read. An easy read is tough to use as an identifier here though, since the story is not happy in any sense of the general term, BUT is great because it is realistic. I'd imagine there are ab I'm starting to give myself a little time before writing reviews for books to let the narrative settle a bit. Otherwise, I jump the gun sometimes and write "it was so good, read it!" reviews. That's usually true, but this book in particular was definitely one that I sped through because it was indeed an easy read. An easy read is tough to use as an identifier here though, since the story is not happy in any sense of the general term, BUT is great because it is realistic. I'd imagine there are about a million similar stories out there of what main protagonist, Cooper, is going through but everyone handles the situation differently. And let me compliment the writing by Jensen - phenomenal. The ability to tell Cooper's (and his family's) story from the eye of a 12-year-old having to grow up a little too fast is not always accomplished as eloquently. So kudos there. I felt everything Cooper did, each time his feelings changed. I was right there with him. I would say I would have liked a different ending - not a happier one per say - but one that sort of gave a better understanding of what direction things were headed in. I got the idea and I guess it's up to your interpretation, but still. I did read the advanced-readers copy though, so maybe the finished, published copy is different. Oh, and the scenery was spot-on in description too. Having recently traveled out west, I was able to see what I was reading more easily in my mind. Though I didn't empathize with Cooper's feelings toward his hometown/area that he lived in, I get it. Grass is always greener and all that. Great read though, it's short but very engaging.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    Pretty good book as told from a teenage boy POV, good pace with plenty of conflict and mystic.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Parents’ Shortcomings Affect Their Children Twelve-year-old Cooper is a lonely little boy. His father suffers from PTSD. His mother is somewhat remote, but she is the one person he can communicate with. Cooper thinks he lives in an average family until his mother leaves telling him and his father that she is off on an adventure. At first Cooper waits for her to come home. He doesn’t understand why she left, and soon he begins to act out. His father is also clueless about his mother’s motivations Parents’ Shortcomings Affect Their Children Twelve-year-old Cooper is a lonely little boy. His father suffers from PTSD. His mother is somewhat remote, but she is the one person he can communicate with. Cooper thinks he lives in an average family until his mother leaves telling him and his father that she is off on an adventure. At first Cooper waits for her to come home. He doesn’t understand why she left, and soon he begins to act out. His father is also clueless about his mother’s motivations so they set out to look for her, but how do you find someone who doesn’t want to be found? This is a deep, character-driven novel that explores the relationship between a child’s view of the world and his parents lives. Children are dependent on their parents. They have no background to judge and forgive their parents’ shortcomings. Good parents are those who have enough maturity to give emotional support, but what happens when the parent is emotionally fragile? If you enjoy novels that explore the emotional life of parents and children, you will like this book. The prose is clean, the setting interesting, and the characters well-drawn. It’s a book that will pull you in to Cooper’s world. I received this book from Turner Publishing for this review.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I have been meaning to set down a few thoughts on this book for a while. Not a review per se, but some thoughts. (1) I am really glad that the author is a somewhat distant relative or this book might not have come to my attention (via my mother). I tend toward fantasy and sci fi rather heavily, although I will read most anything. (2) I was particularly struck by the author's use of language. For me, it uniformly evoked a vivid mental picture and I often found myself viscerally responding to secti I have been meaning to set down a few thoughts on this book for a while. Not a review per se, but some thoughts. (1) I am really glad that the author is a somewhat distant relative or this book might not have come to my attention (via my mother). I tend toward fantasy and sci fi rather heavily, although I will read most anything. (2) I was particularly struck by the author's use of language. For me, it uniformly evoked a vivid mental picture and I often found myself viscerally responding to sections of the book; and, related to that, (3) This book most closely reminded me of how I feel about the best of D.H. Lawrence (think Odour of Chrysanthemums, rather than Lady Chatterley's Lover, which I find one of his weakest works). By this I mean that when D.H. Lawrence is on, his words just ring true. This book rang true throughout.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Craig Terlson

    This is a novel that will stay with me a long time - and I don't say that lightly. The characterizations and tight prose in Cities of Men reminded me of early Richard Ford, especially his novel Wildlife—in fact the novel read like a classic, with echoes of Carver, and maybe even Sherwood Anderson or Updike. But Jensen's book is more than a homage to these past greats. The story is electrifying in a way that I don't see much anymore. The charge is an emotional one, the human condition spilled out This is a novel that will stay with me a long time - and I don't say that lightly. The characterizations and tight prose in Cities of Men reminded me of early Richard Ford, especially his novel Wildlife—in fact the novel read like a classic, with echoes of Carver, and maybe even Sherwood Anderson or Updike. But Jensen's book is more than a homage to these past greats. The story is electrifying in a way that I don't see much anymore. The charge is an emotional one, the human condition spilled out in the pain and confusion of a teenager who can't understand why the world has dealt him such a raw deal. The deal here is Cooper (Coop) a twelve-year-old growing up in the southwest has lost his mother. Her disappearance is what drives the narrative — and it drives it like the Charger beautifully illustrated by Kevin Tong on the cover. Coop's father is a Vietnam vet with PTSD and a deep streak of violence and anger, buried within a tight skin of trying to do the right thing, seemingly ambivalent, but still ready to burst at any moment. Coop and his dad attempt in various ways to track down the wayward wife and mother, but the reader is somehow never sure how much the father wants to find her. It's a difficult emotional situation to describe, and I don't want to give away anything. But throughout the ordeal Coop goes deeper into his own pain, and his own violence emerges. I am left wondering what this book, set in the 80s, is saying about our culture of violence today, and the broken families that create it. Especially poignant, and at times hard to read, is the relationship between Coop and his friend Donald. Jensen nails the conflicting emotions that run through adolescence, and even more so for those put under extreme duress like Coop, and those on the outside like Donald. The novel captures the era beautifully, and characters like the father's friend Sebastian are a reminder that the druggy 70s and counter-culture 60s were not that long ago. It's an era I recall well, but in a totally different geography, still the touchstones and pop culture references enliven the narrative rather than feel forced. Maybe this is what makes it feel like it was written a while ago. But I don't want to make this review sound like this novel doesn't have a modern sensibility. The reason why this book will stay with me is the way it describes the loneliness and confusion of growing up. Calling it "coming-of-age" gives it short shrift. Because the loneliness that it talks about affects us all. The mother wants something more of her life, Coop's father tries to make a life out of what he's been dealt, and Coop most of all exhibits the deep pain of abandonment, and raging against an unjust world. Damn right he wants to smash things. This is a novel to read and consider. And one with a resonance that will not be easily be dismissed from the reader's memory.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rowan

    I really wanted to love this book. I wanted to be captivated by its setting but I felt like I never quite reached that. The details were described beautifully and intricately, but it was all mundane things that didn't contribute much to my grasping of the setting and environment. The tone was extremely cynical and nihilistic, which would have been fine if not for the fact that it was supposedly from the view of a 12 year old. None of the characters were likeable. It had the vibe of a coming-of-a I really wanted to love this book. I wanted to be captivated by its setting but I felt like I never quite reached that. The details were described beautifully and intricately, but it was all mundane things that didn't contribute much to my grasping of the setting and environment. The tone was extremely cynical and nihilistic, which would have been fine if not for the fact that it was supposedly from the view of a 12 year old. None of the characters were likeable. It had the vibe of a coming-of-age novel, but with none of the character development or growth. Overall it was not the experience I was hoping for and I didn't feel anything by the time I reached the end of the novel. Wonderfully written, but unfortunately not much substance.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lev Keltner

    "Cities of Men" is about childhood, but not for kids. Jensen's writing is strong and sensitive. The story is original and pulls you along with the thread of mystery surrounding Cooper's mom's disappearance. The novel returns readers to that time when much of the adult world was a yet-to-be-discovered mystery, and the shock that our parents are people; they come with their own baggage that mixes into our own. Raw, real, and suspenseful, "Cities of Men" explores the burden of family history and de "Cities of Men" is about childhood, but not for kids. Jensen's writing is strong and sensitive. The story is original and pulls you along with the thread of mystery surrounding Cooper's mom's disappearance. The novel returns readers to that time when much of the adult world was a yet-to-be-discovered mystery, and the shock that our parents are people; they come with their own baggage that mixes into our own. Raw, real, and suspenseful, "Cities of Men" explores the burden of family history and depicts a kid's first crack at making peace with that history, or else raising hell over it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Christy White

  14. 4 out of 5

    Leah

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gino Vazquez

  16. 5 out of 5

    Frank Lanza

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Jackson

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jay cain

  19. 5 out of 5

    William Jensen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Machart

  21. 4 out of 5

    David R. Norman

  22. 5 out of 5

    James Wade

  23. 5 out of 5

    aliza

  24. 4 out of 5

    Natalie

  25. 4 out of 5

    Mark Gottlieb

  26. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jason Mellard

  28. 5 out of 5

    Underground Voices

  29. 5 out of 5

    AJ Pena

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Beck PhD

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