If Russell Banks hadn't become a writer, he thinks he would have wound up stabbed to death in a barroom brawl. He is the son of a two-fisted, drunken New England plumber, and the grief of fatherly combat resonates through his work like the background radiation of the big bang. Banks became a violently drinking plumber himself--and then a Pulitzer Prize-nominated Princeton literary giant and one of the luckiest Oscar-buzzed writers in Hollywood history.
(The Atom Egoyan adaptation of Banks's brilliant novel The Sweet Hereafter perfectly captures its brooding beauty, and Affliction may be Paul Schrader's finest film since he wrote Taxi Driver.)
Affliction transmutes Banks's painful past into fiction. His divorced protagonist, Wade Whitehouse, 41, is imprisoned by fate in Lawford, New Hampshire, a hell frozen over. He digs wells for chump change, lives in a trailer, drinks, and alienates his daughter by dragging her to a miserable Halloween costume party. In two weeks' time, Wade demolishes his pitiable hopes of family happiness, drawn into a rigorously plausible series of disastrous deaths. In flashbacks to his Dad-abused youth, we see how Wade wound up such a Dostoyevskian clown.
Banks has a mind of winter: when Wade sees his dead parent, the scene unfolds with the cold logic of ice-crystal formation. The story is narrated by Wade's kid brother, the family's sole escapee to college, in a cool, distanced way. Both brothers contain aspects of Banks, but each breaks free of autobiography. This is one haunting novel.
From Publishers Weekly
In this masterful novel Banks ( Continental Drift ) returns to the decaying region of Catamount, N.H. Harrowed by snow and bone-freezing cold for the several days of the novel's duration, Lawford is an old mill town, the home of protagonist Wade Whitehouse, 41. Divorced, inept, confused, stubborn, Wade lives in a rusting trailer and works with doglike fidelity at small jobs as the town's cop, well-digger, and snowplow driver. He has abused his family, after being brutalized as a boy by his drunken father, abuse that continues even now. Yet Wade, afflicted with a nostalgic, "romantic" streak, wants to rebuild the trust of his ungiving daughter Jill, 10, who tersely judges him through the tiger mask of her Halloween costume (part of the novel's theme of tragic drama). Wade's dream--of making a home for Jill and "Pop," and marrying the goodhearted waitress Margie--slowly erodes. His obsession that a hunting accident is really a murder drives him to violent deeds that may try credibility unless the reader sees the end, like the beginning, in tribal, near-mythic terms. Deerhunters' gunshots punctuate the action; guns and vehicles dominate as conspicious symbols of contradictory male needs to bond and to kill. Wade's fateful story is narrated compellingly by his brother Rolfe, a history teacher who bases his quest for truth on memory, testimony and intuition. 25,000 first printing; $25,000 ad/promo; author tour.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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