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America America

America America

3.8 111
by Ethan Canin

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In the early 1970s, Corey Sifter, the son of working-class parents, becomes a yard boy on the grand estate of the powerful Metarey family. Soon, through the family’s generosity, he is a student at a private boarding school and an aide to the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president. Before long, Corey finds himself involved with


In the early 1970s, Corey Sifter, the son of working-class parents, becomes a yard boy on the grand estate of the powerful Metarey family. Soon, through the family’s generosity, he is a student at a private boarding school and an aide to the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president. Before long, Corey finds himself involved with one of the Metarey daughters as well, and he begins to leave behind the world of his upbringing. As the Bonwiller campaign gains momentum, Corey finds himself caught up in a complex web of events in which loyalty, politics, sex, and gratitude conflict with morality, love, and the truth. Ethan Canin’s stunning novel is about America as it was and is, a remarkable exploration of how vanity, greatness, and tragedy combine to change history and fate.

Editorial Reviews

A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
This novel by the acclaimed author of Emperor of the Air and The Palace Thief spans four decades of American life. Starting in the Nixon era, America America follows Corey Sifter's progress from his modest roots in western New York to a glittering world of money, ambition, and politics.

Corey's entrée into this realm of promise is the patronage of Liam Metarey, son of a ruthless coal baron who amassed a fortune in the early 1900s. Through Corey's narration, we are drawn into the triumphs and trials of the Metarey family as Liam attempts to orchestrate a presidential nomination for Senator Henry Bonwiller. Thrust into the excitement of the campaign, 16-year-old Corey fetches drinks, parks cars, sets up chairs for press events -- and gets an intimate education in human failings.

A champion of labor and civil rights who opposes the Vietnam War, Bonwiller seems to represent the best traditions of America's liberal coalition. But as both Liam and Corey discover, the senator's moral weakness threatens not only his candidacy but their own hopes and ambitions as well. While rumors of Bonwiller's shady business dealings are held in check by the long arm of Metarey influence, the furor set in motion by the accidental death of a young secretary linked to the candidate is not so easily contained.

Tracing the rise and fall of a politician and a family, and the passing of an idealistic era, Canin's novel moves between the present and the past as Corey chronicles his growth to middle age, his marriage to one of Liam's daughters, and his career as publisher of his hometown newspaper. As he mentors a high school intern at the paper, Corey is prompted to question his own role in the sordid affair that put an end to the senator's presidential bid. Layered with Corey's poignant recognition of what it means to be flawed and fallible, Canin's masterfully crafted plotlines converge to bring this complex tale to its startling, inescapable conclusion.

About the Author
For an author who confesses that he finds the process of writing agony -- "I hate it, I really do" -- Ethan Canin has met with extraordinary success. The author of six works of fiction, including the story collections Emperor of the Air and The Palace Thief and the novels For Kings and Planets and Carry Me Across the Water, Canin is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished contemporary American writers.

"To me, a novel is the story of a life," Canin has explained. "That's what interests me. The guy who works in the laundromat, the professor, what happened to them? Where did they make their mistakes? Why didn't they take that job? Why didn't they marry someone else? You could spend the rest of your life thinking about that."

Ethan Canin was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He received early encouragement for his writing from a teacher at his prep school, the bestselling author Danielle Steel. A graduate of Stanford University, he received a master's in fine arts from the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop before shifting gears to enroll in Harvard Medical School. Canin continued to work as a physician as he wrote and published his first books.

Currently, he serves on the faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and lives with his wife and children in Iowa and California.

From Our Booksellers
In an election year where the media takes front and center, a book like this -- that encompasses all the scandal, conspiracy, and deceptions of generations -- told through the clear and unflinching voice of an old-school seeker of truth, demands to be read. A timely and lucid story of what it means to be political vs. what it means to be true, and the shifting nature of both through the filter of what we loosely call morality. --Steve Russell, Tucson, AZ

Walt Whitman captured the American spirit with his poetry, and Ethan Canin captures it in his novel. This is a story about the American Dream: about men whowork hard and strive to create a better world for their children, about ambition and the failures and successes that accompany it. It is a wonderful story about the people who are the backbone of this country, and how they have watched it change from a land dotted with farms to one dotted with strip malls. This is truly an American tale. --Patricia Sanders, Towson, MD

Sweeping in scope, Canin's novel is an intricate portrait of the coming-of-age of a boy and the nation around him. --Doug Britt, Chicago, IL

Intelligent and gracefully crafted, this novel is a reflection of the past, a correlation of the present, and a prediction of the future of our politics. Relevant and incrediblysatisfying. --J. C. Barb, Fayetteville, GA

From Reviewers

Ethan Canin's new novel is a powerful lament that haunts us like a latter-day ghost of The Great Gatsby. Like Gatsby, it deals with an orgiastic rupture in the American dream. If F. Scott Fitzgerald anatomized the Jazz Age and delivered its own corrupt and luscious poetry, Canin gives us a poisoned lullaby of the Nixon era.... The language is often supple, can leap from impressionistic poetry to a coroner's report, and can whiplash through time, from the 1970s to 2006. --Publishers Weekly
Publishers Weekly

Canin's marvelous tale of Corey Sifter, a young working-class man who goes to work for a powerful family and ends up entangled in a political debacle, is wonderfully realized by Robertson Dean, whose deep bass tone is at once powerful and intimate. Told from Sifter's perspective as an older man, Dean captures every possible emotion that saturates Sifter's tone, be it regret or affection, and it's hard not to be riveted. His shifts in tone and dialect for many characters are subtle, his pacing is steady. Dean is quite possibly the quintessential narrator. A Random House hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 21). (June)

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Library Journal

Canin's new work about class, politics, money, and media in the Nixon era through the present day will resonate powerfully with readers in this presidential election year. Corey Sifter, a working-class boy from a small New York town, is hired by the Metareys, the wealthiest family in Saline, to be a man-of-all-trades. His work ethic endears him to the Metareys, who treat him as one of the family, even paying for his prep school tuition. As both an insider and an outsider, Corey is in a unique position to observe the political maneuverings of Liam Metarey and his campaign to elect Sen. Henry Bonwiller to the presidency. However, Bonwiller's personal failings ruin not only his political career but also the finances and family life of the Metareys. This saga of politics and family is a superb achievement; Canin (The Palace Thief) interleaves past and present to create a classical tragedy from the very first page. This engrossing novel would be a good book club selection and is highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, LJ2/1/08.]
—Amy Ford

Kirkus Reviews
A dynasty shattered, a presidential campaign in ruins; a newspaper publisher revisits his youth to better understand an old scandal. This novel of character, Canin's first since Carry Me Across The Water (2001), is powerful and haunting, a major work. Narrator Corey Sifter is the middle-aged publisher of a regional daily in upstate New York. In 2006 he attends the funeral of the ancient Henry Bonwiller, former U.S. senator, the last of the liberal lions. After this low-key start we move back to 1971. Corey is 16, son of a plumber, a true craftsman. They live in Saline, a company town dominated by the Metareys, one of America's great capitalist families. The original Metarey, a Scottish immigrant and ruthless coal baron, has been succeeded by his son Liam, a far kinder man, well-liked. Liam sees a disciplined worker in Corey, self-discipline being the bedrock of character, and hires him as a part-time groundskeeper, then pays his way at a prestigious boarding school as Corey begins a tentative relationship with one of Liam's daughters. Liam is also masterminding the fiercely anti-war Bonwiller's run for the White House; soon Bonwiller is the Democratic frontrunner, but danger lurks. A young woman has been found in the snow, intoxicated, frozen to death. Bonwiller's name is linked to hers, though nobody knows the details. Corey, in a minor way, participates in a cover-up. Only years later, after the birth of his first daughter, does he realize he'd been involved with "something unforgivably wrong." Canin employs with great skill Corey's double vision: the bedazzled loyalty of the teenager, the chastened worldview of the parent. Bonwiller's campaign implodes; the consequences for theMetareys are brutal. The novel is not flawless (Liam, the central character, proves elusive) but the detail work is quite wonderful: The rhythms of a great estate, and the dynamics of a landowning family, are captured with Tolstoyan exactitude. It's the journey, not the arrival, that matters, and the journey is an enthralling one. Agent: Maxine Groffsky/Maxine Groffsky Literary Agency
From the Publisher
“A story in which the audacity of hope confronts the tenacity of power . . . We’ve waited a long time for a worthy successor to Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men and it couldn’t have arrived at a more auspicious moment.” —Washington Post Book World

“[A] many-layered epic of class, politics, sex, death, and social history . . . Its reach is wide and its touch often masterly.”—John Updike, The New Yorker

“An intoxicating big book–in both size and ambition. Thrilling . . . luminous.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A sprawling, captivating, timely work of art . . . Beautifully written, thoughtful, and imbuing all of its principal characters with dignity and understanding, America America is uncommon, ambitious and, like many of its characters, larger than life. . . . A novel that reminds us that fiction matters.”—Houston Chronicle

“Powerful and haunting, a major work.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“A brilliant, serious book for serious readers.” —San Diego Union-Tribune

“Riveting and thought-provoking . . . [Canin] has unleashed all his considerable skills here, and it’s our reward that America America turns out to be his best and most affecting work.”—Miami Herald

“The most mature and accomplished novelist of his generation.”—National Public Radio

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

But the politics of Carrol County aren't easily apparent, and to those who don't live up here they must be an absolute mystery that is further veiled by a habit of silence. We don't like to talk much, or to argue at all -- we just think there's too much work to be done. And we certainly don't like to talk politics, especially with a stranger — which, in these parts, means anyone the speaker hasn't known since elementary school. And in fact, this taciturn habit of ours might be the very thing that saved Henry Bonwiller when all his troubles began. For thirty years he protected the people of Carrol County. And when it was the people's turn, they protected him in return.

Meet the Author

Ethan Canin is the author of six books, including the story collections Emperor of the Air and The Palace Thief and the novels For Kings and Planets and Carry Me Across the Water. He is on the faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and divides his time between Iowa and northern Michigan. He is also a physician.

Brief Biography

Iowa City, IA
Date of Birth:
July 19, 1960
Place of Birth:
Ann Arbor, MI
A.B., Stanford, 1982; M.F.A., University of Iowa, 1984; M.D., Harvard Medical School, 1991

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America America 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 110 reviews.
SusanIL More than 1 year ago
This book was simply devine. I hated for it to end. The characters are vivid and vital and you are engaged by them from the start. Yes, it has echos of the infamous Kennedy scandal -- but the book is more about Corey and his "comming of age" and the struggle to reconcile what your perceptions of those you "idolize" in your youth with what you come to understand of them as an adult. This is the first book of Ethan Canin's I have read, and it certainly won't be the last.
Kate_Sullivan More than 1 year ago
If you grew up in the Kennedy era, one can't help but see the similarities to the final fall of Camelot and all of the characters involved. Specifically, Teddy Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. I don't know if the author intended to draw such a close parallel but I couldn't separate the two events in my mind, which left me feeling uncomfortable. As uncomfortable as I felt back in 1969 when Teddy got off with barely a slap on the wrist. I'm a democrat so it's not sour grapes but rather unfair and unjust punishment for the death of a young woman. In America America I didn't feel like I really knew much about any of the characters and why they did the things that they did by the final page. Especially, Christian, Clara and their mother who seemed to be bordering on the edge of insanity...but why? Putting that aside, I did enjoy the narrative style. I would give this author another try but this book was just so-so for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this for a class and was really confused untill I figured out that it was missing parts of the story, I'm not sure if this is only a mistake in the one i bought?
Ben Botwin More than 1 year ago
Great writing. Great story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was deeply disappointed by this book. I got it out of the library based on the B&N recommendation, they've been mostly on the mark. This book was very boring. I tried but couldnt get into it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very good novel. I'm not quite sure how to categorize it - part political novel, part mystery, part coming-of-age. But the books that can't be pinned down are the best kind, in my opinion.
CamSea More than 1 year ago
It has kept my interest--that's my barometer for how well a book is written.
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Good book If you into the ugly world of politics, this is just the book for you. Politics are a very dirty ugly thing. Nothing or nobody matters except what one can do for themselves in that tainted atmosphere. Good book at telling it like it is.
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It tpuched my heart strings
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