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"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."
"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
Posted March 12, 2013
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.
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Posted April 28, 2013
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
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Posted April 7, 2013
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