Believers: A Novella and Stories

Believers: A Novella and Stories

by Charles Baxter
     
 

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With his five previous books of fiction, Charles Baxter established himself as a contemporary literary master, in the traditions of Raymond Carver, William Maxwell, and Alice Munro. This radiant new collection confirms Baxter's ability to revel in the surfaces of seemingly ordinary lives while uncovering their bedrock of passion, madness, levity and grief.

Overview

With his five previous books of fiction, Charles Baxter established himself as a contemporary literary master, in the traditions of Raymond Carver, William Maxwell, and Alice Munro. This radiant new collection confirms Baxter's ability to revel in the surfaces of seemingly ordinary lives while uncovering their bedrock of passion, madness, levity and grief.

Editorial Reviews

Ron Hansen
. . .[O]riginal, gracefully written, always moving, frequently funny and — that rarest of compliments — wise.
The New York Times Book Review
Chicago Tribune
A luminous and moving book. . . establishing [Baxter's] place as one of our most gifted writers.
Michiko Kakutani
In these eight stories, Charles Baxter displays once again the ability to orchestrate the details of day-to-day reality into surprising patterns of revelation and the knack for describing the fleeting moments that indelibly define a life. -- The New York Times
Chuck Wachtel
A remarkable storyteller. . . . Rarely have I been stopped by what I read and moved so deeply. -- The Nation
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Baxter's (Shadow Play) sixth work of fiction is something of an incongruity: seven virtuosic stories preceding a novella largely bereft of the stories' shared merits. Ambitious and accomplished, the shorter works here tackle slippery themes and subjects -- fleeting moments of truth; the ambiguities of daily life and the defenses through which ordinary men and women attempt to clarify them. In 'Kiss Away,' for example, a young woman wonders if she should believe a stranger's announcement that her lover has a history of battering women, or if the stranger is no more reliable than the alcoholic who promised to grant her three wishes (which, incidentally, come true). Here as elsewhere, Baxter unrolls his canvas slowly and deliberately, convincing the reader of his characters' vitality and patterning their responses delicately and with pathos. In the title novella, however, the suppleness of the author's observations coarsens into heavy ironies and almost melodramatic revelations. Narrated with deliberate (and often painful) artlessness by the protagonist's son, Believers pits a good country priest against a wealthy and corrupt couple who might be outcasts from a Fitzgerald novel. It is 1938, and they lure him from Michigan to travel with them to Germany, where the wife briefly and admiringly encounters Goebbels and the priest loses his faith (the wife 'throw[s] rocks through the glass of his soul'). Fortunately, the novella comes last: newcomers will have seen what Baxter's reputation is built upon, and admirers will not mind that his gambles do not always pay.
Kirkus Reviews
No one will ever accuse Baxter of literary frivolity—and that's the problem. In these eight stories, even the most casual events come bathed in sociopolitical gloss, often to the detriment of Baxter's modest narrative instincts. Believers, the novella that takes up a large part of this volume, strives for world-historical significance to explain one man's loss of faith: the narrator's father, a former Catholic priest who was seduced from his bumpkin modesty in the Midwest by a couple of northeastern smarties, a Protestant husband and wife who aspired to be America's answer to the Cliveden set—witty and urbane fascists, with oodles of dough and a fancy estate in Michigan. The narrator's frustration is simple: He was conceived as a direct result of apostasy and abandoned celibacy. Such clear and easy ironies abound in Baxter's remaining stories as well. In 'The Next Building I Plan to Bomb," a seemingly bland (and heterosexual) midwestern banker finds a threatening message on a piece of paper and decides to act out his own need to be dangerous by engaging in unsafe sex with a young man. Baxter's well-written narratives are distinguished by such surprises—the odd revelation in an apparently ordinary life, like the neighbor who may or may not be a child molester/killer ('Time Exposure'); the happily-in- love young slacker who isn't sure whether her boyfriend is a woman beater or not ('Kiss Away'); and the married father who acts like a fool over his first wife, whom he hasn't seen since she left him over a decade ago ('Flood Show'). Linked by their underlying concern with the forms of passion, these stories are best exemplified by 'The Cures For Love,' arelatively modest tale of a classics teacher who finds solace in Ovid. Baxter's banal commentary about America as mouthed by his characters is slightly more endurable than those same characters' tendency to write things like 'sadness' on grocery lists. A fine writer is here tried (tired?) and true.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679776536
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/1998
Series:
Vintage Contemporaries Series
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
435,866
Product dimensions:
5.21(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.61(d)

Meet the Author

Charles Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of seven other works of fiction, including Believers, Harmony of the World, and Through the Safety Net. The Feast of Love was a finalist for the National Book Award.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Birth:
May 13, 1947
Place of Birth:
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Education:
B. A., Macalester College, 1969; Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974
Website:
http://www.charlesbaxter.com

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