Afflictionby Russell Banks
Wade Whitehouse is an improbable protagonist for a tragedy. A well-digger and policeman in a bleak New Hampshire town, he is a former high-school star gone to beer fat, a loner with a mean streak. It is a mark of Russell Banks' artistry and understanding that Wade comes to loom in one's mind as a blue-collar American Everyman afflicted by the dark secret of the… See more details below
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Wade Whitehouse is an improbable protagonist for a tragedy. A well-digger and policeman in a bleak New Hampshire town, he is a former high-school star gone to beer fat, a loner with a mean streak. It is a mark of Russell Banks' artistry and understanding that Wade comes to loom in one's mind as a blue-collar American Everyman afflicted by the dark secret of the macho tradition. Told by his articulate, equally scarred younger brother, Wade's story becomes as spellbinding and inexorable as a fuse burning its way to the dynamite.
-- Boston Globe
-- The New York Times Book Review
-- The New York Times
"With Affliction, Banks has become the most important white male American on the official literary map, a writer we can actually learn from, whose books help and urge us to change." -The Village Voice
"A powerful and often astonishing novel of which it can safely be said that it should be read over and over for many years to come." -The Kitchener-Waterloo Record
- HarperCollins Publishers
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This is the story of my older brother's strange criminal behavior and his disappearance. No one urged me to reveal these things; no one asked me not to. We who loved him simply no longer speak of Wade, not among ourselves and not with anyone else, either. It is almost as if he never existed, or as if he were a member of some other family or from some other place and we barely knew him and never had occasion to speak of him. So that by telling his story like this, as his brother, I am separating myself from the family and from all those who ever loved him.
In numerous ways I am separated from them anyhow, for while each of us is ashamed of Wade and burdened with anger-my sister, her husband and kids, Wade's ex-wife and his daughter, his fiancee and a few friends-the others are ashamed and burdened in ways that I am not. They are dismayed by their shame, astonished by it, as they should be (he is one of them, after all, and they are good people, in spite of everything); and they are confused by their anger. Which is perhaps why they have not asked me to keep silent. I myself am neither dismayed nor confused: like Wade, I have been ashamed and angry practically since birth and am accustomed to holding both those skewed relations to the world: it makes me, among those who loved him, uniquely qualified to tell his story.
Even so, I know how the others think. They are secretly hoping that they have got Wade's story wrong and that I can somehow get it right or at least get it said in such a way that we will all be released from our shame and anger and can speak lovingly again of our brother, husband, father, lover, old friend, around thesupper table or in the car on a long drive or in bed late at night, wondering where the poor man is now, before we fall asleep.
That will not happen. Nevertheless, I tell it for them, for the others as much as for myself. They want, through the telling, to regain him; I want only to be rid of him. His story is my ghost life, and I want to exorcise it.
As for forgiveness: it must be spoken of, I suppose, but who among us can hope to proffer it? Even I, at this considerable distance from the crimes and the pain, cannot forgive him. It is the nature of forgiveness that when you forgive someone, you no longer have to protect yourself from him, and for the rest of our lives we will have to protect ourselves from Wade. Regardless, it is too late now for forgiveness to do him any good. Wade Whitehouse is gone. And I believe that we will never see him again.
Everything of importance-that is, everything that gives rise to the telling of this story -- occurred during a single deerhunting season in a small town, a village, located in a dark forested valley in upstate New Hampshire, where Wade was born and raised and so was I, and where most of the Whitehouse family has lived for five generations. Think of a village in a medieval German folktale. Think of a cluster of old and new but mostly old houses and shops and a river running through and hillside meadows and tall trees. The town is named Lawford, and it is one hundred fifty miles north of where I live now.
Wade was forty-one that fall and in bad shape -- everyone in town knew it but was not particularly upset by it. In a village, you see people's crises come and go, and you learn to wait them out: most people do not change, especially seen from up close; they just grow more elaborate.
Consequently, everyone who knew Wade was waiting out his gloom, his heavy drinking, his dumb belligerence. His crisis was his character in sharp relief. Even I, down south in the suburbs of Boston, was waiting him out. It was easy for me. I am ten years younger than Wade, and I abandoned the family and the town of Lawford when I graduated high schoolescaped from them, actually, though it sometimes feels like abandoned. I went to college, the first in the family to do that, and became a high school teacher and a man of meticulous routine. For many years, I regarded Wade as a gloomy, alcoholic and stupidly belligerent man, like our father, but now he had gotten into his forties without killing himself or anyone else, and I expected that he would, like our father, get into his fifties, sixties and maybe seventies the same way, so I did not worry about Wade.
Though he visited me twice that fall and called me on the telephone often and at great length, several times a week and usually late at night, after he had been drinking for hours and had sent everyone near him scurrying for safety, I was not moved much one way or the other. I listened passively to his rambling tirades against his ex-wife, Lillian, and his mournful declarations of love for his daughter, Jill, and his threats to inflict serious bodily harm on many of the people who lived and worked with him, people whom, as the town police officer, he was sworn to protect. Preoccupied with the details of my own life, I listened to him as if he were a boring soap opera on TV and I was too busy or distracted by the details of my own life to get up and change the channel.
It would pass, I felt, with the pain of his divorce from Lillian and of her remarriage and departure from town with Jill in tow. Six more months, I felt, would do it. That would put him three full years beyond the divorce, two years beyond Lillian's move south to Concord, and well into springtime: snowmelt running off the hills, the lakes breaking free of ice, daylight lingering into evening. Maybe he will fall in love with someone else, I thought.
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