A Good American by Alex George
George’s debut novel follows three generations of the Meisenheimer family as they sail from Germany to entrench themselves in the American landscape of the twentieth century.
The novel begins with a promise of “Always, there was music”  and leads the reader through opera, jazz, and barbershop quartet genres as the family consistently uses music to help them make sense of their lives. Because of a hasty decision made on the docks of Bremen, Germany, Frederick and Jette, arrive in the American South rather than New York City. Landing in New Orleans, Frederick immediately decides to head north to a possible job. They embark on a steamboat journey that will eventually land them in a German settlement at Beatrice, Missouri. They decide to stay and Frederick buys a bar called the Nick Nack to support his new family. Little does he know that the bar will remain the setting for his children and grandchildren as they live out their lives in the American Midwest. George skillfully weaves the different Meisenheimer’s through historical landmarks such as: latent slavery issues, prohibition, WWI, the Korean War, the assassination of JFK, and the election of Ronald Regan. One generation gently fades away and the next one takes its place as the new owners of the bar/diner that consistently feeds them and their community. The novel begins as a rousing adventure of what it means to be a “good American” but slowly dissipates into a third generation that is practically devoid of patriotic notion or thought. While the story has an interesting premise, the narration is confusing as it seems to change about midway through the novel. The reader begins the novel with an exciting third person narrative but slowly realizes that the narration has morphed into a first person account told by the grandson of Frederick and Jette.
This novel examines what it means to be part of a family within a larger community.