Ten Thousand Saints: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Jun 7 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
"In this enchanting blend of the real and unreal, a spunky girl welcomes a tiny dragon into her family's home," said PW in a starred review. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Henderson does not hold back once: she writes the hell out of every moment, every scene, every perspective, every fleeting impression, every impulse and desire.... She is never ironic or underwhelmed; her preferred mode is fierce, devoted and elegiac.” (Stacy D'Erasmo, New York Times Book Review, Cover Review)
“One of the Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2011…[A] raucous first novel” (New York Times Book Review, Paperback Row)
“Rarely has a coming-of-age novel captured a time and place-here the late 1980s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side-with such perfect pitch. Grade: A” (Entertainment Weekly)
“[Henderson] has a perfect ear for conversation between siblings; the way a lazy spat can turn into a grudging moment of closeness. And the euphoria of the straight edge movement that Jude and Johnny embrace suffuses the novel with a reckless, glib joy…a bittersweet, lovely book.” (NPR.org)
“The best and most lyrically written coming-of-age novel of the year.” (The Daily Beast/Newsweek Writers' Best Books of 2011)
“[A] rare debut that, with a flinty kind of nostalgia, invokes both the gods and demons of a generation.” (Vogue)
“An irresistibly rich and engrossing novel…poignant, complex…Henderson brilliantly evokes the gritty energy of New York City in the ‘80s, and the violent euphoria of the music scene. The hard-edged settings highlight the touching vulnerability of young characters.” (O magazine, Best Fiction 2011)
“Highbrow/Brilliant: All the all-star sentences in Eleanor Henderson’s punk-rock-teen novel Ten Thousand Saints.” (New York Magazine Approval Matrix)
“Ten Thousand Saints is a whirling dervish of a first novel—a planet, a universe, a trip. As wild as that may sound, wonder of wonders, the book is also carefully and lovingly created… [Henderson] writes with great compassion but does not flinch” (Los Angeles Times)
“[The] reader smells the sweat, blood, urine, beer; hears the crowds screaming; feels herself at times flung into the mosh pit - Henderson shepherds her characters with blatant affection…raucous, wounded, sweet, spasmodically desperate, [Saints] comes to feel like a modern, drug-and-rock-riddled version of Peter Pan…” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Henderson’s debut novel bursts out of the gate with all of the drive and sensory assault of the punk music that infuses it…. It’s an auspicious debut, and gives us reason to hope that Henderson will mature as satisfyingly as her subjects do.” (Boston Globe)
“[An] empathetic novel of wayward youth and their wayward parents…Henderson proves herself to be an expert ethnographer; her detail work is phenomenal.…characterizations demonstrate Henderson’s greatest skill. Even the ones who receive comparatively little stage time are always precisely defined… Henderson’s affection for [the characters] is palpable.” (Washington Post)
“Absorbing…Tone is just one element Henderson balances well.... She also packs her coming-of-age story with grit and a generational wallop…. In this naturalistic and assured novel, Henderson crafts a satisfying structure…psychological astuteness is a key pleasure of Ten Thousand Saints.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
“In Ten Thousand Saints, Eleanor Henderson’s début novel, the ghosts of St. Marks are brought back to life…Henderson’s book reads in part like an elegy: she follows her characters from 1987 to 2006, long enough to capture the end of the era and its strange aftermath.” (New Yorker Book Bench Blog)
“Proudly unsentimental…Henderson zeroes in on the essentially malleable nature of these teenagers without squashing them into an indistinguishable mass…, Henderson parcels out its history in tantalizing images and snatches of conversations, holding back where her protagonists might themselves miss the significance of their surroundings.” (The Onion AV Club)
“Henderson’s novel recalls all the sweat and fury of coming of age. . . It’s also a beautifully rendered study of devotion-to a cause, a religion, a scene, and one’s own family-and all the conflict and sacrifice that devotion entails.” (The Millions)
“I loved TEN THOUSAND SAINTS; again and again I was stopped cold by beautiful chapter-ending sentences. I remember this Manhattan, the Sunday matinees at CB’s, the rage over Yuppies colonizing the East Village. ” (Dean Wareham, lead singer of Galaxie 500 and Luna, author of BLACK POSTCARDS)
“Eleanor Henderson is in possession of an enormous talent which she has matched up with skill, ambition, and a fierce imagination. The resulting novel, TEN THOUSAND SAINTS, is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. “ (Ann Patchett, bestselling author of Bel Canto and State of Wonder)
“Countless coming-of-age novels have been written. When a truly exceptional story of this nature does come along, it’s a significant literary event… Ten Thousand Saints is memorable for its boldness and ambition, its empathetic prose, and the troubled souls who discover unlikely forms of redemption.” (Dallas Morning News)
“TEN THOUSAND SAINTS is funny, touching, artistic, surprising, lovely, eye-opening, and very, very wise.” (Arthur Phillips, author of PRAGUE and THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
One of the main characters dies of a drug overdose in the story's set up and exists in the remainder of the book as a point of reference. I didn't find any of the characters to interest me or have me sympathize with their plight though I wanted to, I really did.
I must admit that I continued reading until the very end as the author managed to bring this sad and cautionary tale of drugs and living on the fringe in NYC to life. I kept hoping to relate with someone, anyone, in the pages but for me this never happened. I'm giving the author's writing skills 5 stars but the story only gets 2 stars. I'm rounding down on this one. I'm sure there are many readers more into this New York scene than I & I'm hoping they discover this work. I'm also looking forward to the next work by Eleanor Henderson - she had a good start with this one & I'm sure she has better works ahead, she's certainly capable.
Adults are as important to the story as the teenagers and the effects of parents' actions on their children is a major theme of the book. Jude and his sister Prudence's divorced parents both make their living from marijuana as their dad Les is a prosperous grower and dealer while their artist mother Harriet, perhaps the most stable parent in the novel, makes her living from blowing glass bongs and pipes. Eliza's mom who at the beginning of the story is also Les's girlfriend is a self absorbed ballerina while Teddy and Johnny's mom is an aging hippie known for disappearing when ever things get uncomfortable. Johnny's dad is a prison inmate and Teddy's dad is an unknown man of Asian Indian descent who turns up toward the end of the book and is not what this reader at least expected.
The teenagers turn to Straight Edge music with the accompanying austere lifestyle strongly influenced by Hare Krishna beliefs. It is implied that this is a reaction against their parents' hedonistic ways. Johnny who is a musician and tattoo artist living in the Tompkins Square Park area of Manhattan's alphabet city marries Eliza in hopes of giving his dead brother's baby a chance to stay under his influence even though he has no romantic interest in women. Johnny seems to epitomize the Straight Edge lifestyle and is known as Mr. Clean because of his shaved head and vegan habits.
TEN THOUSAND SAINTS is a novel well worth reading. AIDS, homelessness, gentrification, parenthood, adoption, and drug use are among the many topics incorporated in the book. The author does a great job of bringing the late 1980's in the East Village to detailed life and the choices of the kids and parents in the book will linger in the reader's memory. And the book ends with a very appropriate and effective postscript from 2006 on the last night the famed punk venue CBGB's was open.
What I found was not untypical of a first novel: a somewhat haphazard, awkwardly paced and plotted story that crams in way too much and feels like it needs another few drafts to reach a finished, polished state. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of good writing and good storytelling, but it's side-by-side (ha ha, inside joke for my straight edge brethren) with bad writing, soap opera plot developments, clunky transitions, and even a feel-good coda. The book starts extremely strongly, under some high-school bleachers in Burlington, Vermont (for some reason, recast as "Lintonburg" -- why bother?), where we meet Jude and Teddy, two teenage misfits whose main ambition in life is getting chemically stimulated. A visit from Jude's not-quite stepsister from Manhattan (with the unfortunately transparent last name "Urbanski" -- I mean, come on!) is the catalyst for tragedy and change, as Teddy dies and Jude moves to New York.
It it Jude's journey that leads us through the book, as he gets to know his father, who has been largely absent from his life. He also falls in with Teddy's older brother, who is a fixture of the burgeoning New York City hardcore scene, with his straight-edge band Army of One. (Note: those who would like to read more about this subculture should check out All Ages: Reflections on Straight Edge, a book of interviews that includes a number of people from that era of the scene, or the anthology Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics -- unfortunately the two more academic ethnographies of the subculture are kind of weak. And if you want to hear a sampling of the music, start with the New York City Hardcore compilation from 1988, and go from there.) Anyway, the straight edge stuff is relevant to the story because Jude's parents are both aging hippies who, in different ways, make their living from the pot trade, and his stepsister is a stereotypically spoiled rich Manhattan brat with access to lots of drugs, and in the straight edge scene, he finds a path to a more meaningful life in the wake of the death of his best friend. This is a bit overdone (does it really have to be both parents who make a living off weed, can't it be a little more nuanced than that?), but more or less works.
The reason the book didn't work for me is that the author also brings in all kinds of other stuff, such a teen pregnancy and resulting soap opera antics, AIDS, fetal alcohol syndrome, an attempted portrait of the late '80s pre-gentrified Lower East Side, including the characters direct involvement with the real-life Tompkins Square riot, and most of all, a large subplot involving concealed homosexuality. (The homosexuality angle had the potential to be interesting within the context of the characters involved, but the author oddly muddies the waters by suggesting multiple times that the straight edge subculture was some form of mask for latent homosexuality.) It's just too much stuff, too many themes, and the author only has partial control over it. There are characters who have some great moments here and there (for example, Jude's mother's ineffectualness as a parent), but they're too few and far between, and some characters whose voices are too muted. I ultimately feel like it all would have worked better as a series of separate or linked short stories, with maybe one novella devoted to Jude.
Overcome with grief over the death of his best friend, yet unable to express himself, Jude heads to New York and finds Johnny, Teddy's straight-edge half-brother. (Straight-edge kids swear off drugs, alcohol, sex, and often meat, but follow the hardcore punk scene.) When they find out that Eliza is pregnant with Teddy's child from their encounter at the party the night he died, Johnny sees this as a chance to form a real family, one that has escaped him for so long. Yet he must deal with the demons inside himself, as well as Jude's jealousy, on so many different levels. This is a book about finding yourself and realizing what makes a family, about the hardcore music scene of the late 1980s and the changing demographics of New York City, and about trying to avoid making the same mistakes your parents made.
I thought this book was pretty fantastic. Eleanor Henderson created some truly memorable characters and gave each surprising depth, which made me feel truly invested in what happened to them. There were a few times I worried the book would veer into overly dramatic plot twists, but each time, Henderson remained true to the characters and her story, and I was grateful for that. No one is infallible in this book, much as in life, and that is what made the story so appealing to me--although I couldn't necessarily identify with all of the characters and what they were going through, I felt as if all of the characters were realistic, particularly to the places and time in which the book took place. I flew through this book and of course, I'm sorry I finished it so quickly, because I want more. But I look forward to seeing what Henderson comes up with next!