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An adoring friendship turns deadly in poet and translator Gander's visceral if too brief first novel. Les is the magnetic, godlike protagonist of this reflective four-part narrative: introduced at the time of his difficult birth to a teenage mother, he is put up for adoption. Years later, he is observed by Clay, a colleague on his land-surveying team in a small town in Arkansas, who finds his friend's mannerisms and dissembling so compelling that he apes Les and eventually betrays him. Les, a part-time poet and practical joker, is beloved for his eccentricities, especially by his second wife, Cora, and mistress, Sarah, whose poetic remembrances of Les after his suicide make up the novel's third section and reveal hopelessly guilt-ridden Sarah to be angry, grieving for her tender, quirky lover. Gander's passionate construction of Les reveals a character deeply conflicted, comprising enormous virtue and many flaws, though in the end the work remains piecemeal and incomplete, though nicely done. (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gander has established a well-deserved reputation as one of America's finest poets and translators, comparable to the superb W.S. Merwin. While his poetry certainly has an intellectual aspect, it is deeply rooted in nature and in the human body, as is his first work of fiction. Les is a complex character: a surveyor and artist of some sort, a frustrating friend who challenges the limits of friendship, and a seemingly amoral womanizer whose "charismatic loathsomeness" and deceptions lead inexorably to tragedy. Beware, gentle reader, the opening account of a particularly painful birth and the despair of the young mother who wonders where her lover might be is graphic enough to be considered a form of contraception, and the lamentations of Les's girlfriend Laura are utterly heartbreaking. The only quibble is that this very short work isn't really a novel but a set of four related stories from different perspectives. Call it what you will, but be sure to order it for all public and academic libraries.
Posted September 25, 2009
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