Recommended by Molly. William Kowalski bravely takes on the big questions in his ambitious first novel and is pretty successful. The narrator is the bastard himself, who was delivered in a basket on the doorstep of his alcoholic grandfather, the only remaining member of once rich Mann family. The family was quite proud of its success in this little community, having built the hospital and other amenities for the community. Thomas Junior (Grandpa), instills in little Billy family pride as best he can, given that they no longer have any money and he spends his days sipping liquor and talking to ghosts. One of the themes is the the importance of knowing all the stories about the family, as well as knowing how wonderful the Mann family is: their bravery, intelligence, and ability to see into the souls of others. After a few occasions of confusion of the spoken word "man" for "Mann," I got the idea.
The stories are just irresistible: During World War II Grandpa joined the army and was flown to San Francisco, shipped to the Philippines which was declared a mistake, so he was flown to the Marianas, which turned out to be another error. He was put on a plane back to the Philippines which was shot down by a Japanese pilot who had lost his way. Grandpa and the navigator parachuted into the water and began to swim to the nearby island. The navigator who could not swim was eaten by sharks while Grandpa made it to the island where he encountered the Japanese pilot who had also been downed. Turns out the pilot had graduated from Harvard in 1933, and they pooled their resources and survived their time on the island until they were rescued several weeks later.