Thursday, December 29, 2005


by Russell Banks

This is the story of Wade Whitehouse, a tough New England veteran, with heaps of trouble: a nagging toothache, a bitchy ex-wife and whining daughter, a bible-thumping sister, a cold stand-offish brother, lousy friends and a dead-end job, not to mention a spineless mother and abusive father. The reader has no trouble guessing what Wade is going to do, and the why is obvious, too; yet we keep reading. It’s brilliantly written and gut-wrenchingly suspenseful, despite the inevitability of it all. The structure was interesting. The narrator is Rolfe, Wade’s brother, and the frame of the story is told in the first person, but Rolfe tells Wade’s story in the third person, frequently intruding, but generally just laying it all out as he has reconstructed or imagined the events. Knowing that Banks likes to use structural models (Moby Dick for Cloudsplitter, The Tempest for The Darling, Adventures of Tom Sawyer for Rule of the Bone), I tried to recognize what model he might be using here, but I didn’t get it. Anyone know?

There is apparently an autobiographical element to this story, at least in some aspect of the childhood abuse. I workshopped with Banks at Under the Volcano in 2004 and he said that he had been invited to appear on Oprah to talk about the book, but that it turned out the show was to focus on child abuse and Banks didn't want to be the "poster child" for child abuse and ultimately turned the show down.

Here’s a terrific interview with Russell Banks in IdentityTheory.

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