In the Land of the Living: A Novel

In the Land of the Living: A Novel

4.6 3
by Austin Ratner
     
 

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A dazzling story of fathers, sons, and brothers - bound by love, divided by history

The Auberons are a lovably neurotic, infernally intelligent family who love and hate each other-and themselves-- in equal measure.

Driven both by grief at his young mother's death and war with his distant, abusive immigrant father, patriarch Isidore

Overview

A dazzling story of fathers, sons, and brothers - bound by love, divided by history

The Auberons are a lovably neurotic, infernally intelligent family who love and hate each other-and themselves-- in equal measure.

Driven both by grief at his young mother's death and war with his distant, abusive immigrant father, patriarch Isidore almost attains the life of his dreams: he works his way through Harvard and then medical school; he marries a beautiful and even-keeled girl; in his father-in-law, he finds the father he always wanted; and he becomes a father himself. He has talent, but he also has rage, and happiness is not meant to be his for very long.

Isidore's sons, Leo and Mack, haunted by the mythic, epic proportions of their father's heroics and the tragic events that marked their early lives, have alternately relied upon and disappointed one another since the day Mack was born. For Leo, who is angry at the world but angrier at himself, the burden of the past shapes his future: sexual awakening, first love, and restless attempts live up to his father's ideals.

Just when Leo reaches a crossroads between potential self-destruction and new freedom, Mack invites him on a road trip from Los Angeles to Cleveland. As the brothers make their way east, and towards understanding, their battles and reconciliations illuminate the power of family to both destroy and empower-and the price and rewards of independence.

Part family saga, part coming-of-age story, In the Land of the Living is a kinetic, fresh, bawdy yet earnest shot to the heart of a novel about coping with death, and figuring out how and why to live.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
There is a quality of memory to this spiky tale of family, the second novel from Ratner (after The Jump Artist); the focus moves from person to person, event to event, with more of a sense of emotional logic—and, maybe, more of a wandering attention span—than any narrative needs. Yet there is also a feeling of remove that is impersonal, almost sociopathic; lines of characterization and emotional progress start and stop abruptly, with something like cruelty at times. This is the story of three generations of men, beginning with Ezer Auberon, a Polish Jewish immigrant working as an itinerant carpenter in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the unloving father of Isidore, who dedicates himself to becoming everything his father is not—successful and loving as a father and husband. His sons Leo and Mack face their own difficult childhoods, despite their father’s resolutions, and grow into adults with much less grace than he. The events of their lives seem slapdash at times—an uncomfortable combination of suddenly dropped plotlines and indulgent prose eddies—creating a distance that makes it hard to carry on with these unhappy men. Though the characters are objectionably flawed, they are compelling, and the bonds between these brothers and fathers and sons are convincing and raw. Agent: Einstein Thompson Agency (formerly LJK Literary Management). (Mar.)
John Burnham Schwartz
PRAISE FOR IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING:

"In the Land of the Living made me laugh out loud, and it also left me deeply moved. Part vaudeville and part tragic opera, it dances and rages with uncommon wisdom, conveying the pain, comedy, and beauty of familial love across the generations."

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING:"

In the Land of the Living made me laugh out loud, and it also left me deeply moved. Part vaudeville and part tragic opera, it dances and rages with uncommon wisdom, conveying the pain, comedy, and beauty of familial love across the generations."—John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road and Northwest Corner

Kirkus Reviews
Two generations of men tussle with love, medicine and fatherhood in this rambling follow-up to Ratner's 2009 debut, The Jump Artist. The heroes of this story are Isidore Auberon, who transcends his abusive Jewish-immigrant home in Cleveland to become a respected doctor, and his son Leo, who's frustrated by his inability to live up to his late father's legacy. Ratner frames the story, particularly Isidore's part of it, as a kind of modern-day medieval myth: Chapters about him have lengthy, faux-Arthurian titles ("Of Isidore's Quest for a Damosel for to Make a Home…."). Little in his story, though, seems worthy of such finery--Isidore joins the Merchant Marine, becomes a doctor, marries and settles down, events that don't quite merit Ratner's efforts to inflate them. And if the point is that Leo overestimates his father's importance, his own share of the narrative is similarly pedestrian. There are flashes of humor in Leo's adolescent anxieties about girls and getting into an Ivy League school, and the closing section in which he hits the road with his brother gets some energy from the eccentric characters they meet. But this novel is persistently, frustratingly unsteady on its feet from start to finish. Ratner (himself a doctor) fails to settle on a consistent tone, shuttling from pungent sentences to dialogue full of pop-culture riffs to melodrama to punning irony--the mood is seriocomic, but the line between what's serious and what's comic feels uncertain and uncontrolled. Max has the essential elements of a great Salinger-esque hero--bright, precocious, haunted by family--but we don't get to truly know him until a third of the way through the book, and his frustrations with dad never gain clear focus. This could be a family epic crudely whittled down or a sketch of one. Either way, this book doesn't match its ambition.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316206105
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
03/12/2013
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
609 KB

Meet the Author

Austin Ratner's first novel, The Jump Artist, was the 2011 winner of the Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and has been honored with the Missouri Review Editors' Prize in Fiction. He attended the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. Before turning his focus to writing he received his M.D. from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and he is co-author of the textbook Concepts in Medical Physiology. He is Clinical Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He grew up in Cleveland, OH, and now lives in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife and two sons.

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In the Land of the Living: A Novel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
shakescene More than 1 year ago
In the Land of the Living is a great novel--inventive, visceral, hilarious, indelible. It reminded me of all the greats, especially Joyce (Portrait) and Woolf (To the Lighthouse), with some Catcher in the Rye and some Faulkner. Tackling the big themes—death, sexuality, ambition, love, family —it tells an engrossing story of growing up that explores the process of building a life and fashioning a self, day by day, year by year, against an undertow of loss. Leo is only three when his father dies, and the treatment of early memory is tremendously evocative: fleeting fragments and sensory impressions to which Leo clings as he tries to live up to the outsize image he’s constructed of his father. The book’s verbal brilliance is also remarkable—many images that radiate symbolic meaning, eloquent outpourings, comic riffs. The allusions to songs and movies of the 80s, and to specific Cleveland landmarks (A Novel of the Rust Belt—high time!) ground the novel in time and place, while the stream-of-consciousness associations and zinging jokes locate the narrative inside a teenager’s mind—a teenager who is hyper-aware, mad-as-hell, and funny-as-hell. The storytelling is kinetic and propulsive, the language is rich and layered, and the payoff is big: the raw and honest truth about the costs of early trauma and how to survive it. How do you live up to a dead man’s legacy? How do you throw off the burdens of the past? How do you become your own self? The journey is a hard haul, but also a funny, bawdy, deeply moving, thrilling ride.
DiiMI More than 1 year ago
In the Land of the Living captures the lifelong effects of traumatic childhood losses in a family that is splintered beyond repair. Author Austin Ratner has created a coming of age story for not one, but two men in a family saga that spans more than one generation with eerily similar tragedies. Isidore struggled with a cold and distant widowed father, trying to shield his siblings from his parental wrath, while vowing to make a success of his own life. Leo, Isidore’s son, is faced with almost identical losses and it drives the actions and reactions of his life in an effort to do what would make his father proud, while facing and fighting an inner rage and contempt for his younger brother Mack. Have the losses faced by this family ruined its chances to heal? By telling the story out of sequence chronologically, Austin Ratner has enhanced the feeling of loss and confusion, as well as the day to day struggles faced by his characters. His intermixed dark humor lends credibility to the story, making each character more lifelike and painfully human. I felt the pain of the characters, as well as their convictions, strengths and insecurities. Each scene was so descriptive and vivid in its detail with an elegant, yet edgy style that it made this a book to remember long after the final page. This edition was provided by NetGalley and Little, Brown and Company in exchange for my honest review. Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Anonymous More than 1 year ago