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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
4.0 out of 5 stars Early, Long, Forever Winter May 8 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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4.0 out of 5 stars Emotional, but slow May 27 2001
Format:Paperback
'Affliction' is the study of a man. A sad and disappointed man. The character of Wade can't be neither called a hero, nor a anti-hero. He's just what normal people are, sometimes good, sometimes bad. But all the way he tries to get his life right.
The book is about how Wade has to cope with his ex-wife, his lover, his bosses, his colleagues, a murder and his father. He's kind of policeman, but no one takes him seriously. Wade is a bit slow in thinking, but he's not really dumb.
The book is not about the murder, really. It's not a thriller or a whodunit. It's a study about man who nevertheless how bad his life is going, he still thinks he can get it on. It's this hope, which makes this book so sad.
The book is very sad, at most in scenes when Wade gets treated by other people and when he just can't handle it. It's sad to see how impossible it's for him to take care of his daughter. She doesn't like him and that's hard to take.
Nevertheless this book is well-written and very emotional, it's a bit slow. Not much happens, and I'm not talking of more shoot-outs and murder. It's just a book which takes a while to read. But that's okay, because it's worth doing so.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Quite Possible the Saddest Novel I've Ever Read Feb. 18 2001
Format:Paperback
Film critic Roger Ebert once stated that if someone wanted to understand the psychology of a man driven to abuse his family, they should view Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL. In that vein, I would like to add the same sentiment to the literary equivilent. If a reader would like a glimpse into the reasonings of a man who abuses those around him, Russell Banks' novel AFFLICTION must be read.
AFFLICTION follows the last few weeks in the life of Wade Whitehouse, a small-town police officer, plow driver, and crossing guard, who mysteriously disappears after an act of brutal violence. As related by his brother Rolfe, Wade is an intelligent, deeply emotional man who has let life lead him to his present position. Instead of the dreams of youth he once possessed, he is now darkly cynical, having been divorced twice from the same woman, with a daughter who is slowly coming to hate his intrusive presence. He does not see himself as cynical, however; He remains deeply hopeful, and cannot bring himself to understand why his plans unerringly end up as tragedy.
As the story progresses, we grow to truly understand Wade's motivations, and we despair that he cannot see the folly of his increasing paranoia. His disturbing upbringing, under a father who increasingly becomes violent himself, lends an air of melancholy to Wade's depression and growing fits of rage. His inadequacy as a father, his impotence as a figure of authority in the community, speeds him ever faster into ruin, yet he remains unwilling to let go of any scrap of salvation he can grab onto. In this case, it is an accidental death that Wade is reluctant to let go as such, regarding it as a holy grail, an avenue towards eventual redemption.
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3.0 out of 5 stars try Ernest Hebert Oct. 13 2000
Format:Paperback
Affliction is apparently a somewhat autobiographical novel about Wade Whitehouse, a crude & somewhat brutal son of a truly barbarous father. Wade is now in his forties, lives in the Mountains of Central New Hampshire and works as a well driller, snow plower and town constable. His high school sweetheart wife has left him and taken their daughter. Now Wade is reduced to living alone in a wind swept trailer and drinking way too much. Over the course of the novel, this is apparently a common theme for Banks, he realizes how desolate and desperate his life has become and he begins to lash out at his abusive father, shrewish ex-wife, his tyrannical boss and the towns uppity part time residents, the idle rich in their ski chalets. In particular, he becomes obsessed with regaining custody of his daughter and with proving that a seeming hunting accident was actually murder.
These twin compulsions turn out to be a lever with which Wade can pry open his hemmed in life and assert power for once. But the exercise of power and the awakening of self carry dangers which Wade is ill equipped to confront and tragedy lurks around the corner.
I liked this book much better than I expected to; the movie ads seem to promise merely another domestic abuse fiesta, but that story line is really somewhat peripheral. Wade's struggle to gain some control over his life is nearly heroic and we root for him top succeed. But Banks piles on such melodramatics that we anticipate that he is doomed.
There's also another weakness, and a more significant one. The story is narrated by Wade's brother in such an omniscient manner that it becomes distracting. You continually find yourself saying, how does he know that fact or know how that person felt.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars not for me
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.
Published 11 months ago by toulu
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfection
One of the finest novels in the last 25 years. The most convincing and natural dialogue I have ever read. Read more
Published on May 6 2002 by Nifflefoot
5.0 out of 5 stars wayyyy cool
dude, this book was rad. it was so funny when the little girl cries because her dad of her dad beat her dad. Read more
Published on April 24 2002 by "rp7mf"
5.0 out of 5 stars Rugged, tough as nails -- and powerful
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... Read more
Published on Dec 25 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Post Modern Alienation
Russell Bank's books are always good. This one is top notch: more Post Modern alienation at its best.
Published on Nov. 25 2001 by Eleni Otto
5.0 out of 5 stars Another Bank's great
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... Read more
Published on Nov. 17 2001 by RL
5.0 out of 5 stars Banks is the master at writing men at moments of decision
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... Read more
Published on Sept. 11 2001 by Angela
5.0 out of 5 stars cool stuff
dude, this boook is cool. i liked it from the start. it was cool how the dad of the little girl's dad is crazy but he is cool. it is awesome stuff when he beats his son. Read more
Published on May 6 2001 by "rp7mf"
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful, Haunting Novel
This is my first Russell Banks novel and I'm so glad that I discovered him!!! "Affliction" is a wonderful, incredibly written story about a man named Wade Whitehouse... Read more
Published on Sept. 5 2000 by Nancy Hochman
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