Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Reserve by Russell Banks EXPLICIT


The Reserve by Russell Banks is a book of setting and characters. Though, the book jacket advertises part murder mystery, the accidental death doesn't occur until two-thirds through the book and is only imagined to possibly be a murder in the disturbed minds of the characters.


The setting is upstate New York. I grew up on Long Island, so for me upstate includes everything north of the Bronx. This story in way upstate, north of the Catskills, north of the Erie Canal, in the Adirondacks, geographically closer to Canada and culturally closer to Vermont and New Hampshire than to New York City. The time is 1937. The descriptions of the rustic environment and culture are lyrical and evocative.


The plots centers around the beautiful, adopted heiress Vanessa. Her parents come from old-money families, but they are are also the troubled characters expected in novels.
[Vanessa] almost remembered being naked and lifted high in the air by a big man and placed up on the fireplace mantel with a scary hot fire burning below, the big man turning into her father, who disappeared suddenly behind his camera box ... she was being lifted again by a big man and carried to a sofa that was hard and scratchy on her bare bottom and back, where she was placed just so, her naked legs and arms arranged just so, her head turned just so.
"In the very beginning, when [your father and I] first tried to make love, it went ... badly, let's say. The fact is, on our honeymoon he found out that I wasn't a virgin, and he rejected me for a time. Later on, months later, when we tried to make love, he couldn't. And then ... well, he wouldn't. We were both pretty shy about it, about sex, and it was just simpler not to do it at all, and he never complained about it, and neither did I."
This book employs an interesting device. Between chapters there are short (two page) scenes that I first assumed to be flashbacks, but I eventually figured out that they were more like preemptive epilogues - scenes set in the future. For the most part, the characters and dates of these scenes are not disclosed. It was an interesting puzzle, but I thought it detracted from the story.

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