I heard about Canin recently while listening to a NPR program, and decided to take a closer look at his novels. What I discovered, in reading "America, America", is an author who knows how to write with style and grace while relating a compelling story. There are plenty of takeaways for us in this elongated and twisty tale of youthful idealism, adult undoing, and elderly realism. Each in succession forms the cycle of life that Canin brings to bear on the life of young Corey as he becomes unintentionally drawn into the vortex of political life that threatens to destroy all that America has stood for until now. It is the late 1960s and the political establishment in Washington, DC, are sending its boys off to war and Watergate is about to blow up. Suddenly, Corey becomes privy to what really troubles his parents' generation: what was once certain with the wielding of power and influence has now become the desperate search for ways to hold on to and perpetuate it for generations to come. Corey, the mere 'yardboy' in the wealthy, though vulnerable, Metary family empire, might become that male heir-apparent to keep the dream alive. Fortunately, for him, he will have the chance of a lifetime to break out of this narrow world where business and politics connive to hold on to power. He will get to see the dark and dirty side of the Nixon Years while furthering his education at a fine New England prep school, compliments of the Metarys. Being the honorable person that he is, Corey will faithfully act as a part time driver for their candidate for president, the influentially corrupt Senator Bonwiler, ever alert that something is not quite right about the arrangement and the system it represents. It will take time for the house of cards to collapse and the awful truth to leak out that the Metarys are backing a murderous crook who only wants to use them to gain the White House. Looking for that moment when it all makes sense doesn't come easy in this cautionary story. Only later in life when Corey begins to disentangle himself from this incredible mess, will he be able to step back and see with the help of other victims where the pieces fit. Redemption and a mountain of glorious wisdom await the reader who makes it through the sordid and tragic times. I have never seen such an effective ending to a novel as with this one. Corey and Clara, the eldest daughter of the ruined Metarys, have now become parents of a new generation of offspring, devoted to finally getting it right.
I'm a little late to the "America, America" review section because I only recently was told how good the book is and how much I'd enjoy it. It IS good and I DID enjoy it! I'd read Ethan Canin's "Palace Thief" when it was published a few years ago and thought Canin had a great writer's voice.
This comes out fully in "America, America", the story of two men, Corey Sifter and Liam Metarey, who are bound together by history and personality. Sifter, who narrates the story, flips back and forth in both time and relationship, from the early 1970's to 2008. He is the son of working class people whose talents and intelligence is recognised by Liam Metarey, the scion of a wealthy liberal family in upstate New York. Metarey mentors Corey, arranges for his education at a boarding school and then at Haverford College. At the same time, Corey works around the Metarey estate and becoming involved in the presidential campaign of a Teddy Kennedy/George McGovern-like Democrat in 1971 and 1972. Henry Bonwiller, the candidate, is involved in some shady deals and possibly in the death of a young woman ala Teddy Kennedy's Chappaquidick-like accident.
Sifter grows up and becomes a journalist on an upstate-New York newspaper and in turn mentors another young person.Part of the story is his relating to Trieste the story of the decline of the Metarey empire along with the political ambitions of Henry Bonwiller.
Canin is a spot-on writer of dialogue and character development. All his characters - both major and minor - are beautifully drawn. If you, like me, missed "America, America" when it was originally issued, it's well worth seeking out and reading.
on October 9, 2008
What a relief it is to read a novel that accomplishes what it sets out to do.
I'd never read any of Mr. Canin's works, so I came into this blind. Now I have a canon to dig into, and am relishing the great reading ahead of me.
The tale is sprawling, but not overwrought. It's written in the first-person, but the narrator's voice is not cloying, and he does a wonderful job of retrieving memories, providing perspective. There's humour, sadness, political and human drama...and even some history lessons along the way.
I'll leave a more detailed review to those more adept at them than I...but suffice it to say that I was charmed by 'America America', and will savour its reassurances about the state of North American fiction for a goodly time.