Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Identity Theft

If you could examine the list of all of the books that we have read in our book group over the last 25 years you would notice that there are very few multiple books by the same author. That is not to say that there are none (there are: Philip Roth, Nadine Gordimer, Kazuo Ishiguro); and I’m not sure how that came about but it might be an unarticulated premise that one of the functions of the book group is simply to introduce us to an author through one specific work and then leave it to each member to pursue her interest in that author’s other works should she have such an interest. There are so many authors – and so many good ones.

So it is that we as a group read The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter in 2005 and I was prompted by the recollection of writing that well-deserved its nomination for the National Book Award to read his most recent book The Soul Thief. The book in its broadest outline is the story of the relationship between 2 graduate students Nathaniel Mason and Jerome Coolberg while in school in Buffalo, New York in the 1970’s and their meeting again 30 years later. When Jerome initiates contact with Nathaniel after 30 years I found myself desperately wanting to warn Nathaniel away from accepting the contact and at the same time wanting to follow through to see the outcome. Nathaniel never could resist Jerome. The scene at Niagara Falls during their school days still gives me chills. The relationship between Nathaniel and his sister is especially touching.

What I particularly noticed about the writing of this book is the author’s use of simile and metaphor. There were times when I actually stopped to count the number on a page. Some of them so perfectly capture the moment and the image that you almost gasp at their brilliance and the mind behind them. The book itself is short; some of the chapters are less than one page. It is the kind of book that you want to start reading again as soon as you have read the last page. And having read it once you can pick it up and read just a short section at random for the beauty of the writing. Of course, nothing’s perfect – you may find the ending a little contrived but it was not enough to spoil the overall experience for me. I am still wondering how someone could still be keeping a lover’s farewell letter unopened in a drawer after more than thirty years. Could you?

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