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

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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 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

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

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Product Details

Cengage Gale
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.40(d)

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

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.

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