Many novels are remarkable for their characterizations, for their authors’ abilities to craft relationships between the reader and the character, so intimate that they seem real. “The Volunteer” by Cleveland native Salvatore Scibona is not such a book. Each of its main characters has several identities, or none.

The “volunteer” of the title is called so by his parents, Iowa farmers who know the term as a plant that grows on its own, instead of being planted. They call him Vollie; in 1967, he lies about his age and joins the Marines. He learns to refer to himself as “this recruit” but names his machine gun. He keeps on "unaccountably not getting killed” as he re-enlists, but in his third tour he is captured and held in a Cambodian cave with two other men. After an eternity, he is the only survivor.

After his discharge, Vollie is coerced into acting as a shadow agent for “the shop,” and his job will be to locate himself in New York, with a new identity, and listen for even the slightest mention of a man who probably is dead anyway.

Instead of making readers feel as if they know his characters, Scibona brings them into his settings. The Cambodian cave where Vollie is chained is dim and stinking. The Queens neighborhood where he establishes himself is precisely drawn, with rusted fences, car exhaust, heat rising in waves from the blacktop and children playing until the streetlight comes on. Vollie later travels to New Mexico, where he lives in a cooperative arrangement in an adobe house.

Elroy, a character in the next generation, considers Vollie his father, but that isn’t true. Elroy has a son whom he abandons at an airport; fittingly, the boy has several names. The timeline shifts from chapter to chapter, including a finale set in 2029.

“The Volunteer” (432 pages, hardcover) costs $28 from Penguin Press. Salvatore Scibona directs the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at New York Public Library. He grew up in Strongsville. His first book, “The End,” was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Events

Hinckley Elementary School (1586 Center Road): Author Robert Spirko signs his books “The Palestine Conspiracy” and “Secret of Ekaterinburg: The Hour-Glass” at the 62nd Annual Buzzard Day Arts and Crafts Show from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

Cuyahoga County Public Library (Parma-Snow branch, 2121 Snow Road): Seats may remain for Greg Iles (“Natchez Burning” trilogy) who will discuss “Cemetery Road,” about a Mississippi-born journalist who returns to his hometown to find political scandal, 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Visit cuyahogalibrary.org or call 216-661-4240.

Akron-Summit County Public Library (Goodyear branch, 60 Goodyear Blvd.): Tim Carroll signs his pictorial history “World War II Akron,” 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday.

Rocky River Public Library (1600 Hampton Road): Dave Schwensen signs “The Beatles in Cleveland,” 6:30 to 8 p.m. Monday.

Hudson Library & Historical Society (96 Library St.): Elaine Weiss, author of “The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote,” talks about the 19th Amendment in commemoration of the centennial of women’s suffrage in Ohio, 7 p.m. Monday; at 7 p.m. Thursday, historian J. Edgar Watts discusses “Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell into Tyranny.” Register at 330-653-6658.

Cleveland Heights-University Heights Libraries (Coventry Village branch, 1925 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights): Clara Jean Mosley Hall, author of “Paris in America: A Deaf Nanticote Shoemaker and His Daughter,” talks about growing up in a black Delaware community in the 1950s, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday; Lori Rochat discusses “What Is a Schizophrenic Supposed to Look Like?,” 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

Akron-Summit County Public Library (Nordonia Hills branch, 9458 Olde Eight Road, Northfield): Tim Carroll signs “World War II Akron,” 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center (Case Western Reserve University, 1855 Ansel Road, Cleveland): National Book Award winner (for 2006’s “The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl”) Timothy Egan continues the 2018-2019 William N. Skirball Writers Center Stage Series, talking about “The Immortal Irishman: Thomas Francis Meagher and the Invention of Irish America,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Tickets are $30. Call 216-368-6062.

Cuyahoga County Public Library (Beachwood branch, 25501 Shaker Blvd.): Barbara Marlowe, author of “A Brave Face: Two Cultures, Two Families, and the Iraqi Girl Who Bound Them Together,” appears from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Register at 216-831-6869.

The Shoppes at Akron Centre (50 S. Main St.): Tim Carroll signs “World War II Akron,” 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.

Visible Voice Books (2258 Professor Ave., Cleveland): Poets Diane Vogel Ferri (“The Desire Path”), Gail Bellamy (“Victual Reality”) and Steve Thomas (“The Strength of Flowers”) read from their works at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Massillon Museum (208 Lincoln Way E.): Tim Carroll signs “World War II Akron,” 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

Kent State Trumbull (Auditorium, 4314 Mahoning Ave. NW, Warren): At 6:30 p.m. March 25, actor and Norton native Dwier Brown, who played the father of Kevin Costner’s character in the 1988 film “Field of Dreams,” will talk about his experiences and sign his book “If You Build It … Fathers, Sons and Field of Dreams.” The appearance is part of Warren-Trumbull County Public Library’s One Book/One Community reading event, which this year features W.P. Kinsella’s novel “Shoeless Joe.” The event is free, but tickets are required; call 330-399-8807.

 

Send information about books of local interest to Lynne Sherwin, Features Department, Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309 or lsherwin@thebeaconjournal.com. Event notices should be sent at least two weeks in advance.