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The Reserve (2008)

The Reserve (2008)
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2.96 of 5 Votes: 2
ISBN
0061430250 (ISBN13: 9780061430251)
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English
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harper
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The Reserve (2008)
The Reserve (2008)

About book: Russell Banks is turning down the heat. His most recent novels -- released to wide critical and popular acclaim -- were fiery tales of revolution: Cloudsplitter (1998) told the explosive story of abolition terrorist John Brown, and The Darling (2004) raced us through the sprawling horrors of Liberia's modern-day civil war. But with The Reserve Banks has narrowed his scope dramatically, returning to the smaller scale of his earlier fiction, even the compressed time frame of his fine short stories.The title refers to a private sanctuary in the Adirondacks, a pristine wilderness maintained by a few families so wealthy that the deprivations of the Depression do not affect them at all. Banks provides a sobering description of the sad economic conditions that developed during this time and still prevail in such resort locales. A staff of servants and caretakers live like medieval serfs on the 40,000-acre Reserve, abiding by regulations set down by the summer people to maintain the area's idyllic atmosphere. "They were allowed onto the Reserve and club grounds," Banks writes, "but only to work, and not to fish or hunt or hike on their own. . . . The illusion of wilderness was as important to maintain as the reality."That tension between illusion and reality is what interests Banks most here. This is primarily a novel about right and wrong, and how class and sex cloud that distinction. He focuses on a man who moves confidently among the haves and the have-nots: Jordan Groves, a left-wing artist who sells his pictures to wealthy collectors, seduces their wives, and pals around with their servants. He's loosely based on Rockwell Kent, the celebrated illustrator and labor advocate who donated a number of his works to the Soviet Union, ran afoul of Sen. McCarthy and eventually appeared on a U.S. postage stamp.But Jordan is entirely Banks's own invention; The Reserve alludes to historical events, but it isn't built on them the way Cloudsplitter and The Darling are. Instead, Banks has created a small collection of characters from different levels of society and then brought them together for a disastrous encounter in this pastoral setting during the summer of 1936.The novel opens when Jordan flies his plane to the wilderness palace of a wealthy collector, Dr. Cole, "an internationally renowned, if somewhat controversial, brain surgeon." Dr. Cole's only daughter is a scandalous beauty named Vanessa, 30 years old, already twice divorced. "She was rumored to have had affairs with Ernest Hemingway and Max Ernst and Baron von Blixen," but Jordan's not interested: "Plutocrats," he decides at once. "Leisure-class Republicans. People with inherited wealth and no real education and, except for the doctor, no useful skills." He recognizes Vanessa from the pages of Vanity Fair, but to him "the woman was nothing more than a socialite . . . a parasite." Nonetheless, when she bends down close to his face and whispers, "I won't be happy until you take me for a ride in your airplane," he immediately agrees, a decision that entangles him far more than he realizes.After Dr. Cole dies from a heart attack later that night, Vanessa appeals to Jordan to give her another ride in his plane so that she can spread her father's ashes over the lake. It's a violation of the Reserve's rules, but such an innocent, harmless one that, again, Jordan can't resist.Unfortunately, Vanessa is plotting something much more forbidden than spreading her father's ashes -- or sleeping with Jordan Groves, who's married with two boys. Behind her celebrated beauty is the dangerous and unbalanced character of a woman frightened into moral idiocy: "The truth was somewhat transient and changeable" for Vanessa, "one minute here, the next gone. It was something one could assert and a moment later turn around and deny, with no sense of there being any contradiction. Merely a correction."That expedient attitude is completely alien to Hubert St. Germain, a proud woodsman who also gets dragged into Vanessa's deadly plot. He considers himself a throwback "to men of an earlier era, when the region had not yet been settled by white people -- solitary, self-sufficient hunters and trappers and woodsmen who thought of themselves as living off the land, regardless of who owned title to it." Now, of course, those days are gone. Once a man of "calm good sense and moral clarity," he too falls into a quagmire, "where he could no longer choose between right and wrong." But how different that challenge appears to someone who has no money, no options, no escape from his own sins.Banks is a genius at showing people slipping into crises that scramble their moral reason, but this story depends on several startling revelations that alter everything we thought we knew about these characters. In some ways, The Reserve is a romantic thriller laboring away in the heavy costume of social realism. It vacillates oddly between aha moments and long passages of subtle analysis. And the novel's complicated political and aesthetic concerns are too quickly upstaged by romantic angst and bedroom shenanigans: e.g., "They made stormy love the entire rest of the night, until dawn broke." Sure.The scandal that develops is periodically gripping, but what doesn't work is a series of italicized, intercalary chapters that show glimpses of Jordan and Vanessa in the future, serving in the war in Europe. At first, these episodes are so brief and elliptical that they convey no meaning at all, and even when they eventually do come into some focus, they remain unresolved. They're one more incongruous element in this alternately engaging and frustrating novel. http://articles.washingtonpost.com/20...

goodreaders seem to be down on this book, as do editorial reviewers (i've actually checked only the two reviews published on amazon.com, which i assume must be the best). i can see why, but me, i'm not down on it. i've given it three stars because i don't think it's that special, and i don't care for the story much, but it's a good book about something important, and it's beautifully and captivatingly written. goodreaders seem to be down, in particular, on the language of this book, but it seems to me the language is its one glaring virtue. i have read other russell banks and, though i don't remember them well, i feel innerly certain the language was vastly different; banks says in a little preface (also published on amazon.con) that he wrote this after having reread lots of hemingway, and you can see hemingway all over the organization of the sentences and the feel of the prose. since i love hemingway and the way his language makes me feel, i have no qualms about the book's language. russell banks is a first rate writer and when he sets out to imitate another first rate writer he does it in a first rate way. like hemingway, banks provides here a visceral sense of the ways in which strong men and nature naturally mesh. the first time i read hemingway it was the nick adams stories and i was enchanted by hemingway's depiction of the natural affinity between men and nature. hemingway and banks make technology (boats, airplanes) part of this meshing and affinity (banks doesn't seem big on cars; maybe hemingway isn't either: boats and planes seem to require a physical mastery that cars do not require). there is also much fitzgerald here, especially the fitzgerald of tender is the night. some reviewers, and banks himself, claim that this book is about class. and true, the impoverished inhabitants of the small adirondacks towns the surround the reserve get some good play, and the contrast between their plight and the oblivious comfort of the super-wealthy lodgers of the reserve is addressed. but the pleasure of the book doesn't come from this and i think banks might be slightly disingenuous when he says that the impoverished locals are his main interest. this is not about poor mountain people braving the depression. this is about the follies of the wealthy, their crazes, their lusts, their luxuries, golden rum against the hearth's glow, the allure of the successful artist's life, the distant, diamond-hard, predatory, irresistible attraction of beautiful women. i had no idea, coming into this, that it was about a mentally disturbed young(ish) woman with a history of horrible child abuse and the prospect of forced psychiatric hospitalization in the heydays of lobotomy. how do these books land in my hands? well, i'm grateful. this part of it is the tender is the night bit, and i found it interesting. a lot of female madness is simply thrown in books and movies. this book takes it seriously and addresses it gravely, and i find this a good thing.the part that bored me were the intertwined love stories, which are the main focus of the novel. love stories bore me silly. in conclusion, not a spectacular book, but i think it holds its own, especially if, as i said, you like hemingway and those other macho guys who shaped american literature in the first few decades of the 20th century.
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Reviews
Stephen Wallant
Dear The Reserve,Who Cares about a bunch of rich people in upstate New York and whether they're cranky or tired? Oh, so you are in the woods! Oh there's a woodsman. That one girl, who got a lobotomy at the end, hey. She was the only one who I could really connect with at the end! I hope anyone who reads this book never talks to me about it.No, thank you.Steve WallantPS: Russel Banks is one of my favorite guys, but he REALLY missed the bus on this one. And as usual someone had to be made an examp
Robert
Mr. Banks's novel of the U.S. in the Great Depression is well written, has a plot structure that captures the reader's interest and captivating characters. But, I am of the opinion that the story line is too repetitious, the characters overdrawn almost to the point of characature and too much irony and classical tragedy. The gap between the privilegded and the towns people is a chasm that the well born and well to do care little about ameleorating. Add to this mix an emotionally unbalanced daughter of the rich doctor and egotistical artist (also rich) a backwoodsman/guide who becomes the lover of the artist's Austrian born wife and you have ingredients for a melodrama that does not hold the reader in its grips. Sometimes less is more.
Marion
Given that Russell Banks is one of my favorite authors, this book was a disappointment. So many great elements: class, history, mental illness, strong interesting characters - even brief connections to Hemingway and John Dos Passos. What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately, it just didn't come together in a way that seemed equal to all of it's parts. I've noticed that many other reviewers on Goodreads had the same reaction.My favorites by Russell Banks are: Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter and Rule of the Bone. Each are very different, but equally brilliant and thought provoking. Banks seems to enjoy mixing it up with his novels. Never writing by template, Banks seems to start fresh with each new book, tackling very different issues in ways that feel totally unique and perfect for the subject matter at hand. So, while I highly recommend this author, I'd suggest starting with something other than The Reserve if you haven't read any Russell Banks. I still consider him to be one of our greatest authors of contemporary fiction.
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