Tom Stechschulte's voice is well suited to this novel's myriad layers of time and interlocking characters. Although superficially different-genteel versus rebellious, calm versus wild-the central figures all have an old-fashioned depth. Set in the mid-1930s amid mounting concerns over war, numerous characters have Germanic accents, which Stechschulte reproduces adeptly. He shifts easily from the backwoods drawl of the people who live surrounding the exclusive reserve in the Adirondacks to the haughty upper-class tones of the wealthy who stay there. Similarly, he captures the broad, confident tones of Jordan Groves, the prickly artist who fits neither group, but then moves his voice fluidly to that of the enigmatic heiress, Vanessa Cole, who catches Groves's eye. Stechschulte gives Vanessa's words the right husky, even sultry quality, but more importantly he perfectly expresses her rapidly shifting emotions of inner turmoil and borderline madness. Simultaneous release with the Harper hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 26).
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It all begins on July 4, 1936, in the achingly beautiful and unspoiled Adirondack Mountains, where the wealthy built their summer retreats. Vanessa Cole is one of the lucky ones: her family inherited land on "the Reserve" before the implementation of building restrictions, and as such, it owns a secluded lodge that can be reached only by boat and plane. On that July night, Vanessa's father invites local artist Jordan Groves to the lodge to see his art collection, but it's the meeting between Jordan and Vanessa that will show just how destructive this seclusion and sense of privilege can be. Known for his complex and conflicted characters, Banks (Rule of the Bone) here reveals how the mentally unbalanced Vanessa and Jordan, a wealthy, married socialist, are attracted to these contradictions in each other. The plot gets off to a slow start, but the breathtaking scenic descriptions create a setting central to the story. As the chain of events builds to an inevitable and tragic conclusion, we are left with the feeling that no one, not even the well-to-do, can escape the laws of nature. Recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/15/07.]
A left-wing artist tangles with a troubled heiress in this characteristically somber, class-conscious novel from Banks (The Darling, 2004, etc.). On the evening of July 4, 1936, at their luxurious summer camp in a privately owned Adirondacks wilderness reserve, Carter and Evelyn Cole get a visit from Jordan Groves, a Rockwell Kent-like creator of woodcuts, prints and etchings. Though Jordan's a notorious Red who has little use for people like the Coles (he's there to look at some paintings), it's hard for this inveterate womanizer to resist the attentions of their beautiful daughter Vanessa, twice-divorced veteran of many scandalous love affairs. She is also, Banks reveals not long into the narrative (with a shockingly unexpected image of Evelyn Cole bound and gagged by her daughter), quite crazy. After Dr. Cole has a fatal heart attack the night of Jordan's visit, Vanessa becomes convinced (not without reason) that her mother plans to have her committed once again to a discreet Swiss asylum. So Vanessa ties up Mom and implausibly manages to enlist the help of Hubert St. Germain, one of the many locals whose ill-paid seasonal work comes from serving the summer people. Hubert is also the lover of Jordan's discontented wife Alicia, and learning of their affair drives the artist into Vanessa's arms-though not before her mother has been disposed of in a shotgun accident. Dark hints that Dr. Cole sexually abused Vanessa have been freely scattered, but also cast into serious doubt. A catastrophic fire covers up the evidence of Evelyn's demise, and Hubert gets off scot-free despite having confessed his involvement to the odious manager of the Reserve's country club. Jordan and Vanessa meet theirseparate just deserts in ends that owe more to history (the Hindenburg crash, the Spanish Civil War) than the author's imagination. Banks is one of America's finest novelists, but this oddly distanced work lacks the passionate personal engagement of a masterpiece like Continental Drift (1985) or the bracing historical revisionism of Cloudsplitter (1998).
It is not for nothing that Russell Banks is often thought of as a novelist of blue-collar America. While his ten previous novels have spanned time and continents, from the Haitian coast to rural New Hampshire to the Liberian jungle, more often than not they land, however glancingly, among the townspeople of Adirondack New York. With The Reserve, Banks has again transported us to his local wilderness, only this time he has added the trappings of historical fiction.
Set in the 1930s at an elite mountain sanctuary where wealthy New Yorkers come to play rugged, The Reserve exploits the theatricality promised by this backdrop from the outset. Banks opens with a beautiful, elegant woman slipping away from a party to take in the rustic sunset. Those assembled -- urbane Yale graduates and their wives, industrialists and real estate magnates -- barely notice her departure until a tiny airplane piloted by a famous artist sweeps down over the lake. Upon finishing this scene, it is hard not to wonder: is this really Banks? Where is the invocation of story, the hard-edged voice announcing its intent to relate a tale of no particular singularity? In both tone and subject, Banks seems to be, at least on the surface of things, up to something well beyond his usual range: there is fashion, a "cream-colored, low-necked, beltless frock by Muriel King," there is a chauffeured car, there is an expensive collection of paintings. There is, in essence, money.
Banks's departure from his usual canvas is admirable, but by so dramatically reorienting his scope, his prose loses some of the organic touch that is its signature. A master of the laconic, bottled emotions of the working man, Banks seems ill at ease with the refinements of the leisure class. His feel for the raw beauty of the Reserve produces stunning scenery -- "brassy edges of the clouds turn to molten gold" and the "broad shadow of the mountains spread[s] across the lake" -- but the characters who inhabit these surroundings never quite share this steady naturalism. Vanessa Cole, the aforementioned elegant young woman and centerpiece of the novel's unfolding drama, is a "tall, slender figure" with "long, confident strides." Jordan Groves, the artist-cum-pilot, is introduced by the following description:
The pilot was a large man, in his early forties, tall and broad, with big, square hands, and moved with the grace of a man who liked the feel and appearance of his own body, although he did not seem to be vain. His black straight hair fell loosely forward over his brow and gave him a harried, slightly worried look...He had very dark, almost black, deep-set eyes, and a prominent, long arc of a nose, and his face was wide, with a jutting chin, slightly underslung. There is an overexertion here, an anxiety, almost, about forcing his characters to compete with the richness of their landscape. In venturing in to this new territory -- the awkward enmeshing of social classes from both sides of the spectrum -- the author divides up his cast a touch too neatly: we get the capricious heiress, the brooding artist, and, later, in the mountain guide Hubert St. Germain, the very model of homespun integrity. Banks's efforts to set the stage for his story can at times feel stiff, and it is not until all of his characters are mired in the familiar terrain of heartbreak that the author finally begins to get comfortable.
The Reserve gains momentum around an unlikely love triangle (or quadrilateral, really) between Vanessa, Jordan and his Viennese wife, Alicia, and Hubert, who is acting as caretaker to the Cole family estate. As Jordan falls prey to the coy seductions of Vanessa, the distant Alicia resolves to bring her long-standing affair with Hubert to an abrupt close. It is in the figure of Hubert that Banks best realizes his strengths. Though he tends to idealize the reticent morality of the common man -- Hubert is something of an archetype -- his presence in the novel leads Banks onto richer ground. The Adirondack economy, and the strange interdependence it fosters between wealthy summer visitors "from away" and the local working class, is a subject that Banks has toyed with before, but never so directly as he does in The Reserve. In his previous novel, The Darling, Banks took a hard look at the inherent tensions between radical politics and the privileged citizens who are so often its most prominent agents. Here, prompted by Vanessa's extreme measures to preserve her inheritance (not to mention her melodramatic conviction that her mother intends to have her lobotomized in a Swiss asylum), the various pressures of class all combust as this quartet's lives become intertwined, sending the novel tumbling toward its chaotic conclusion.
Jordan, despite his reputation as a leftist revolutionary, spends more time dwelling upon his own personal infidelities and corresponding guilt than he does the economic realities of Depression-era America. "It made no sense," Jordan thinks, trying to fathom his wife's relationship with Hubert:
None. Except for the old perennial sexual attraction of the bourgeois woman for the proletarian male. That must be it. It was an attraction that Jordan Groves, no matter how radical his politics, was unable to generate for himself, except among aristocratic women. Aristocratic women, he believed, had the same weakness for men like him as Alicia had for men like Hubert. That's the explanation, he thought, it's all about class. While The Reserve fancies itself a meditation on the interplay of class, sex proves a much more volatile fictive ingredient than politics: in the end, it requires a sexual misadventure of cataclysmic consequence for Jordan to enlist to fight in the Spanish Civil War. In the past, Banks has demonstrated a certain fondness for the dual narrative, and The Reserve finds him again jumping between storylines. Between each chapter, he has inserted short sketches of pre-WWII Europe, where Jordan is now a fighter pilot and Vanessa is en route to Switzerland after all, traveling on the famed Hindenburg. These forecasts of what is in store for our heroes, perhaps meant to lend the insular happenings of the Adirondacks a sweeping historical weight, ultimately have the opposite effect. Rather than broadening the range of Banks's vision, the decision to infuse the Adirondacks' strictly anti-cosmopolitan setting with an element of continental glitz detracts from the cloistered intensity that Banks had so deftly built up in the wilds of the Reserve. Hemingway and Dos Passos may flit across its pages, but The Reserve never quite achieves the historical gravitas to which it aspires. It is when it contents itself with smaller intimacies that the novel feels most true. --Amelia Atlas
Amelia Atlas's reviews have appeared in The New York Sun, 02138, and the Harvard Book Review.
“Like our living literary giants Toni Morrison and Thomas Pynchon, Russell Banks is a great writer wrestling with the hidden secrets and explosive realities of this country.”
“Russell Banks’s work presents without falsehood and with tough affection the uncompromising moral voice of our time. I trust his portraits of America more than any other.”
“A vividly imagined book. It has the romantic atmosphere of those great 1930s tales in film and prose, and it speeds the reader along from its first pages…Banks’ talents are so large - and the novel so fundamentally engaging…THE RESERVE is a pleasure well worth savoring.”
“A cool noir thriller...This is new and wonderful turf for this masterful storyteller.”
From the Publisher
“A master storyteller.” - The Nation
“Of the many writers working in the great tradition today, one of the best is Russell Banks.” - New York Times Book Review
“Banks knows how to keep the reader glued to the page.” - Edmonton Journal
“Russell Banks [is] one of America’s most elegant literary voices.” - The Vancouver Sun
Deseret Morning News
“...this powerful and beautiful Russell Banks novel is close to a masterpiece.”
“...[Russell Banks] carved out a reputation with words, bu producing some of the best fiction of our time.”
“Banks’s willingness to confront… the hard truths about the world we live in… goes a long way toward explaining his longstanding reputation as one of America’s finest contemporary fiction writers.”
Los Angeles Times
“...[A]n almost pot-boiling love story set against a backdrop of global unrest and clearly demarcated class tensions...[it] has character and scene--as well as suspense and surprise--in abundance.”
“[The Reserve] is beautifully and elegantly written, showing the author as a lover of language....[T]his powerful and beautiful Russell Banks novel is close to a masterpiece.”
“Banks...displays a vivid immediacy that puts you right in the middle of things.”
“The novel’s strength...is the story Banks has to tell... ‘The Reserve’ captures the drama, not just of these characters’ lives, but of this moment in American history.”
Boston Sunday Globe
“Banks’s new novel, The Reserve, may well be the best--and darkest--work of fiction written to date about the storied regiou of high peaks, glacial lakes, and vast forests covering an area nearly teh size of Massachusetts.”
“As a love letter to the mountains and greenery and water, [The Reserve] conveys deep feeling.”
“...sexy, almost guilty pleasure of a read...”
“The Reserve is a page-turner from the moment mad beauty Vanessa Cole insinuates herself aboard the biplane of Hemingway-esque antihero Jordan Groves.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Banks peels back [the characters’] gloss so that we can enter their interior.”
Christian Science Monitor
“...Banks has immersed himself in the time he’s writing about and manages to evoke Hemingway without ever aping his style...”
San Diego Union-Tribune
“[The Reserve]...holds lessons for our own time. It’s a supremely well-written book...”
Read an Excerpt
When finally no one was watching her anymore, the beautiful young woman extracted herself from her parents and their friends and left the living room. She passed through the screened porch and crossed the deck and barefoot walked softly over the pine needles in front of the sprawling log building downhill toward the sheared ledges along the edge of the lake.
She knew that shortly the others would notice, not that Vanessa had left her father's party, but that the light in the room had suddenly faded, and though it was still late afternoon and not yet dusk, they would see that the sun, because of the looming proximity of the Great Range, was about to slip behind the mountains. The Second Tamarack Lake was deep and long and narrow, like a Norwegian fiord, scraped by glaciers out of the north- and south-running Great Range of steep, granitic mountains, and the view from the eastern shore of the Second Lake at this hour in high summer was famous. Most of the group would take their freshened drinks in hand and, following Vanessa, would stroll from the living room down to the shore to watch the brassy edges of the clouds turn to molten gold, and then, turning their backs to the sky and lake, to compliment the way the pine and spruce woods on the slopes behind the camp shifted in the dwindling alpenglow from blue-green to rose and from rose to lavender, as if merely observing the phenomenon helped cause it.
After a few moments, when the alpenglow had faded, they would turn again and gaze at the lake and admire in silence the smooth surface of the water shimmering in metallic light reflected off the burnished clouds. Andthen at last they would notice Vanessa Cole standing alone on one of the tipped ledges that slipped into the water just beyond the gravelly beach. With her long, narrow back to her parents and their friends, her fingertips raised and barely touching the sides of her slender, pale, uplifted throat, Vanessa, gazing in dark and lonely Nordic thoughtfulness into the whole vast enclosed space between lake and forest and mountain and sky, would seem to be situated at the exact center of the wilderness, its very locus, the only meaningful point of it. For her parents and their friends, for an interesting moment, the drama of the disappearing sun would be Vanessa Cole's.
There were nine people at the party, Dr. Cole's 1936 annual Fourth of July celebration at the Second Lake — Vanessa and her parents, Carter and Evelyn Cole; Red Ralston and his wife, Adele; Harry and Jennifer Armstrong; and Bunny and Celia Tinsdale. The men had been classmates at Yale, Skull and Bones, class of 1908. Their wives, respectively, had gone to Smith, Bryn Mawr, Vassar, and Mount Holyoke. All four couples had married young and had in their twenties borne their children, and their children, except for Vanessa, had in turn done the same. During the previous decades the men had made a great deal of money buying and selling stocks and bonds and real estate and from the practice of their professions — Dr. Cole was an internationally renowned, if somewhat controversial, brain surgeon; Red Ralston, Vanessa's godfather, was a corporate lawyer who specialized in bankruptcies; Harry Armstrong owned a company that manufactured automobile tires; Bunny Tinsdale ran his father's steel company — and husbands and wives both were old enough now to have found themselves in the process of inheriting homes and family fortunes from their dying parents. They and their parents and their children and grandchildren had not been much affected by the Great Depression.
Every year on the Fourth of July — other than during the war years, when Dr. Cole and Bunny Tinsdale were army officers stationed in France — the four families gathered together here at Rangeview, the Cole family's Adirondack camp, to drink and fish and hike in rustic splendor and to celebrate their loyalties to one another, to their families, and to their nation. This year, except for Vanessa, all the children and grandchildren were spending the holiday elsewhere—on islands, as someone in the group had noticed, Mount Desert Isle, Long Island's North Shore, Martha's Vineyard — which had somewhat diminished the occasion in importance and intensity, although no one said as much. They acted as if the absence of their offspring were both desired by them and planned and were not, as it appeared, a changing of the guard. The Coles so far had no grandchildren. Their only child, Vanessa, was adopted and at thirty had been married and divorced twice, but had remained childless — "barren," as she put it.
It was nearly silent there by the shore — low waves washing the rocks at Vanessa's feet, a soft wind sifting the tall pines behind her — and she could hear her thoughts clearly, for they were cold and came to her in words and sentences, rather than feelings, as if she were silently reciting a list or a recipe she'd memorized years ago. She was not happy, Vanessa told herself, not one bit, and she wished that she had stayed in Manhattan. It was always the same here, year after year, her mother and father's annual Fourth of July show, and though it was more her father's show than her mother's, that didn't make it any better. Not for her. Everyone had a show, she believed, and this was not hers, not anymore, if it ever had been, when she heard in the distance a low humming sound, a light, intermittent drone that rose and fell, surged and lapsed back almost into silence and then returned and grew louder.
She realized that it was an airplane. She had never before heard or seen an airplane at the Second Lake. Rangeview was the largest of only a half-dozen rough-hewn log camps, a few of which were elaborately luxurious, located in the forty-thousand-acre privately owned wilderness, the Tamarack Wilderness Reserve. Vanessa's grandfather Cole had been . . .