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Affliction [Paperback]

Russell Banks
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 29 1998
Wade Whitehouse, divorced, estranged from his young daughter, spends his days as a well-driller, snow-plow operator, and policeman, his nights in a wind-swept trailer park. But when a union boss is killed in an apparent hunting accident near Wade's home, and he is convinced that it is murder, he seizes the event as a chance to right many wrongs - unaware that as he unravels the mystery he himself will become unravelled. Soon his hunger for justice and self-respect become inseparable from a desperate violence.

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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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars not for me Nov. 14 2013
By toulu
Format:Paperback
I just didn't entre. Kept reading every night for week hoping at one point I will enjoy. Quite for now dont if I will get back to it.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Early, Long, Forever Winter May 9 2002
By L. Dann
Format:Paperback
This is a tough book. It is the last years of a family that has lived in the miseries of violence and addiction. These are always complicated sooner or later by poverty and loss of soul. The very landscape has been beaten up and bought up and drilled to make it little more than a ghost of nature. Twisted and tortuous is the path of the lives and the land. The buildings are erected similarly, no beauty and not much comfort. The people who have the money are not at all nice to the ones who haven't. Corruption, exploitation and every now and then somebody gets brave enough to take off. Wade, our everyman, has a friend who made it, and he wonders after a certain amount of booze, on certain nights, if he might be able to do the same. But he knows he won't. This is a land of trailer parks perched on concrete slabs, where people fight and love in bars, with half working neon signs casting eery shadows over treacherous, icy roads.
Wade Whitehouse is a large man, with strength, sex appeal and a wound racing through him like the Mississippi and all its tributaries. His tale is told through his brother, the questionable survivor, who went to college, got out, has a career, and isn't a blackout drunk. There is the sister turned evangelical Christian, with her own frightening, crazy children. There are the ghosts of the two other brothers, dead together in some offensive in Nam. They too, haunt the bizarre story, a mystery, a murder, and the climax of a legacy.
My friends in Maine were simply out of their minds over Banks, and out of respect from these Chicagoan, Wisconsin transplants whose art awakenings I had shared, I entered into these readings seriously.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Perfection May 6 2002
Format:Paperback
One of the finest novels in the last 25 years. The most convincing and natural dialogue I have ever read. Russell Banks is the America's best living novelist, and this is his masterpiece.
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5.0 out of 5 stars wayyyy cool April 24 2002
By "rp7mf"
Format:Paperback
dude, this book was rad. it was so funny when the little girl cries because her dad of her dad beat her dad. i liked the ending because the brother talks about people working at video stores and video stores are cool. read this book anyd you will see what im talking about.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Rugged, tough as nails -- and powerful Dec 25 2001
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
There are a lot of books out there by "cowboy poets" or sort of macho-ish writers. "Affliction" has no such pretensions, but it's more austere, rugged, and well-crafted than the best of them.
You can read the other reviews for the plot. I won't repeat it. I'll just say this: The relationship between fathers and sons haunts this book like a curse passed down through the generations, and the dynamic of that relationship--and the way it affects the men's lives--gives this book its enormous depth, compassion, and power to shock. An unforgettable read. Really a great novel of American man.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Post Modern Alienation Nov. 26 2001
Format:Unbound
Russell Bank's books are always good. This one is top notch: more Post Modern alienation at its best.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another Bank's great Nov. 17 2001
By RL
Format:Paperback
Why do bad things happen to good people? Because their parents (stink). At least that's one of the messages that Russell Banks conveys in this dark tale of past abuses causing irrepriable emotional scars. Banks, once again, clearly illustrates that we are, at times, a product of our parents' emotional well being. Wade Whitehouse is a drinker, a loser and a clown. He makes his daughter miserable through his misguided ability to show her love. Yet, through it all, Banks makes you understand and feel empathy for Whitehouse.
Most frightening, is that in Banks' writing(Continental Drift, The Sweet Hereafter) the alienation and loneliness he describes is frequently part of all of our lives. He is perhaps our best writer for our times.
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By Angela
Format:Paperback
You're not going to like any of the men in Affliction, but you will care about them nonetheless. This is an excellent book that's not afraid to show real relationships and embarass its protagonist in the process. It is an easy read because the points are not subtle--a legacy of violence is the theme and it is discussed on every page. You'll zip through this.
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