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The Reserve [NOOK Book]

Overview

Part love story, part murder mystery, set on the cusp of the Second World War, Russell Banks's sharp-witted and deeply engaging new novel raises dangerous questions about class, politics, art, love, and madness—and explores what happens when two powerful personalities, trapped at opposite ends of a social divide, begin to break the rules.

Twenty-nine-year-old Vanessa Cole is a wild, stunningly beautiful heiress, the adopted only child of a highly regarded New York brain surgeon ...

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The Reserve

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Overview

Part love story, part murder mystery, set on the cusp of the Second World War, Russell Banks's sharp-witted and deeply engaging new novel raises dangerous questions about class, politics, art, love, and madness—and explores what happens when two powerful personalities, trapped at opposite ends of a social divide, begin to break the rules.

Twenty-nine-year-old Vanessa Cole is a wild, stunningly beautiful heiress, the adopted only child of a highly regarded New York brain surgeon and his socialite wife. Twice married, Vanessa has been scandalously linked to any number of rich and famous men. But on the night of July 4, 1936, at her parents' country home in a remote Adirondack Mountain enclave known as The Reserve, two events coincide to permanently alter the course of Vanessa's callow life: her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, and a mysteriously seductive local artist, Jordan Groves, blithely lands his Waco biplane in the pristine waters of the forbidden Upper Lake. . . .

Jordan's reputation has preceded him; he is internationally known as much for his exploits and conquests as for his paintings themselves, and, here in the midst of the Great Depression, his leftist loyalties seem suspiciously undercut by his wealth and elite clientele. But for all his worldly swagger, Jordan is as staggered by Vanessa's beauty and charm as she is by his defiant independence. He falls easy prey to her electrifying personality, but it is not long before he discovers that the heiress carries a dark, deeply scarring family secret. Emotionally unstable from the start, and further unhinged by her father's unexpected death, Vanessa begins to spin wildly out of control, manipulating and destroying the lives of all who cross her path.

Moving from the secluded beauty of the Adirondack wilderness to the skies above war-torn Spain and Fascist Germany, The Reserve is a clever, incisive, and passionately romantic novel of suspense that adds a new dimension to this acclaimed author's extraordinary repertoire.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

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.]
—Kellie Gillespie

Kirkus Reviews
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).
Deseret Morning News
“...this powerful and beautiful Russell Banks novel is close to a masterpiece.”
Miami Herald
“...[Russell Banks] carved out a reputation with words, bu producing some of the best fiction of our time.”
Boston Globe
“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.”
Deseret News
“[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.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“Banks...displays a vivid immediacy that puts you right in the middle of things.”
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“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.”
Chicago Sun-Times
“As a love letter to the mountains and greenery and water, [The Reserve] conveys deep feeling.”
Elle Magazine
“...sexy, almost guilty pleasure of a read...”
Express
“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...”
Cornel West
“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.”
Michael Ondaatje
“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.”
Scott Turow
“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.”
William Kennedy
“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

From the Hardcover edition.

The Barnes & Noble Review
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061809583
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 675,006
  • File size: 663 KB

Meet the Author

Russell Banks is one of America's most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.

Biography

Born in New England on March 28, 1940, Russell Banks was raised in a hardscrabble, working-class world that has profoundly shaped his writing. In Banks's compassionate, unlovely tales, people struggle mightily against economic hardship, family conflict, addictions, violence, and personal tragedy; yet even in the face of their difficulties, they often exhibit remarkable resilience and moral strength.

Although he began his literary career as a poet, Banks forayed into fiction in 1975 with a short story collection Searching for Survivors and his debut novel, Family Life. Several more critically acclaimed works followed, but his real breakthrough occurred with 1985's Continental Drift, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel that juxtaposes the startlingly different experiences of two families in America. In 1998, he earned another Pulitzer nomination for his historical novel Cloudsplitter, an ambitious re-creation of abolitionist John Brown.

Since the 1980s, Banks has lived in upstate New York -- a region he (like fellow novelists William Kennedy and Richard Russo) has mined to great effect in several novels. Two of his most powerful stories, Affliction (1990) and The Sweet Hereafter (1991), have been adapted for feature films. (At least two others have been optioned.) He has also received numerous honors and literary awards, including the prestigious John Dos Passos Prize for fiction.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 28, 1940
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newton, Massachusetts

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

As there were no longer any records, the Hmong could not even tell when they actually misplaced their history. The event had deleted itself. But the oral legend that was passed on unreliably like a whisper from China would have them believe the following:

The elders of the Hmong tribes had gathered to lead the great exodus. For countless centuries, their people had been victimized by the mandarins. With no more will to fight, the time had come to flee. Traditional nomads, the Hmong had few valuable possessions to carry. They would lead their animals and build new homes when they reached the promised lands to the south. But there was one artifact that belonged to all the Hmong. It was the sacred scroll that contained their written language, legends, and myths of ancestors in a sunless, ice-covered land, and, most importantly, the map of how to reach their nirvana: the Land of the Dead in the Otherworld.

With great ceremony, the scroll was removed from its hiding place, wrapped in goat hide, and given the position of honor at the head of the caravan. The Hmong walked for a hundred days and a hundred nights and on the hundred and first night they were lashed by a monsoon that drenched them all before they could find shelter. Cold and wet, they sat shivering in a cave until the sun rose. The keeper of the scroll was distraught to discover that the rain had soaked through the goat hide and dampened the sacred document. Chanting the appropriate mantras, they unrolled the text and laid it on the grass to dry beneath the hot morning sun. And the followers, exhausted from their sleepless night, found shade under the trees and fell into a deep sleep.

While they slumbered, a herd of cattle found its way up to the mountain pass and discovered both the sleeping Hmong and the hemp scroll inscribed with vegetable dyes. And, starved of new culinary experiences, they set about eating this delicious breakfast with vigor. The Hmong awoke to find their sacred scroll chewed to pieces. They chased off the cattle and collected the surviving segments. These they entrusted to a shaman who stayed awake with them and kept them safe and dry for the next hundred days and hundred nights. But on the hundred and first day, the clouds finally parted and the sun shone and the Hmong found themselves in a deserted village. Not one to ignore the lessons of experience, the shaman laid out the segments in the loft of the longhouse. Certain the remnants of the scroll wouldn’t be attacked by cattle or goats or birds there, he finally joined his brothers and sisters in a well-earned sleep. But he hadn’t taken the rats into account. Half-starved and desperate, the rats set about the hemp and devoured it in a frenzy. Unsated, but with the memory of food now implanted in their minds, they then turned upon one another. When the Hmong finally climbed into the loft, all they found were several ratty corpses and a few unreadable shreds of their culture. This, according to the legend, was how the Hmong lost their history and their written language.

The spirit of the first-ever Hmong shaman, See Yee, looked up from the Otherworld and was mightily pissed that his people could be so careless. He stewed over this for a lifetime or two before he could find it in his heart to forgive them. But he didn’t send them a new scroll or a new script, for that really would have been tempting fate. Instead, he taught six earthly brothers how to play six music pipes of different lengths. By playing together, this sextet found they were able to guide the dead to the Otherworld without the map. But, as they got older and found themselves with more personal commitments, it wasn’t always easy to get them together to perform. So See Yee taught mankind how to put the six pipes together and play them with six fingers as one instrument. Thus, the geng was born.

When the geng was played, people swore they could hear the voices of the ancestors. It was as if their spirits were retelling the history and describing the path to the afterlife through the sounds of the instrument. Music became the medium through which the Hmong recorded their legends. The notes had replaced the written text. The music of the geng could be used to teach new generations about their past and their future lives. They had no need for books.

The Western missionaries, of course, had no ear for such foolishness. They considered a race without a written text to be barbaric and ignorant. So, they created a roman phonetic system as the basis for a script for the Hmong that was impossible to read without learning a lot of complicated rules. The clever churchmen believed they had bonded together the diffuse Hmong tribes through this linguistic subjugation, but the Hmong knew better. They learned the text to keep the missionaries in their place, but they had a system that was far more advanced than anything devised in the West. They had a musical language that communicated directly from one soul to another.

The Stiff

“What is that god-awful row?”

“One of those Hmong beggars playing his flute by the sounds of it.”

“Well, it’s annoying. Doesn’t he know this is a hospital? Can’t you go tell him to shut up?”

“You’ve got legs. You tell him.”

“I’m in the middle of something.”

“And I’m not?”

The morgue was made of concrete, and secrets had no cracks to hide in. From their corpse-side seats, Nurse Dtui and Madame Daeng could hear every disparaging word the two clerks spoke. The auditors were like an unhappily married couple. The pale-faced men in their frayed white shirts and polyester slacks had ghosted in the previous morning. They’d handed Dtui their official placement papers from the Justice Department and commandeered the office. They’d taken advantage of the coroner’s absence and chosen this week to go through his books for the 1977 audit. It appeared they’d been instructed to find errors in the records. Dtui had known straightaway that that task was virtually impossible, given that her boss had handwriting so horrible he could hardly read it himself. Dipping a cockroach in ink and having it scamper around the page would have left traces more legible to the average reader.

But Nurse Dtui had to admire the auditors’ determination. They had every flat surface in the office covered in a layer of gray papers and were tiptoeing barefoot between them. They’d been through the entire first drawer of the filing cabinet and were making copious notes in their ledgers. They’d been instructed not to discuss their mission with menial staff so Dtui had no way of helping them find whatever it was they were searching for.

“Let’s go and get lunch,” one of them said.

“Hm.”

It was the first thing they’d agreed on since their arrival. Dtui and Daeng heard one or two paper rustles, the closing and locking of a door that hadn’t been squeezed into its misshapen frame for many years, and a cough from just outside the room where the two ladies sat.

“Can I help you?” Dtui asked.

“Comrade Bounhee and I are taking our lunch break,” said one of the men.

“Perhaps you’d like to come in here and join us for a sandwich?” she suggested. Daeng smiled and shook her head. The men hadn’t dared enter the examination room since the arrival of the corpse that morning.

“Er, no. Rather not. Good health, comrade.” And he was gone.

There were four rooms of a sort in the only morgue in the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos. The paper-strewn and off-limits office was one. Then there was a large alcove and the cramped storeroom in which Mr. Geung, the lab technician, stood polishing specimen jars. And finally there was the examination area they all referred to as the cutting room. It was here that Nurse Dtui and Madame Daeng sat on either side of the deceased military officer, finishing their tea. Despite appearances, there was nothing perverse in this irreverent act. It had been necessitated by the peculiar events of that morning.

Mr. Geung had a form of Down syndrome that made him very efficient at repetitive tasks and very thorough in those duties he’d been taught. Anything out of the ordinary, however, caused him to become flustered. He didn’t trust strange people or equipment that disturbed the norm in his domain. The auditors had been such an intrusion and he continued to mutter his displeasure to himself. But there had been one other annoyance that week. The morgue’s perfectly good French refrigeration unit had been replaced with a Soviet behemoth twice its size. Neither the hospital engineer who installed it nor Mr. Geung, who was responsible for turning it off and on, had any idea how it worked. Dtui could read Russian but none of the dials seemed to perform the functions they promised. So Mr. Geung had been particularly distraught to discover that after only two hours in the unit the army captain was deep frozen.

Madame Daeng, the coroner’s fiancée, had arrived just then to discover Dtui comforting a teary Geung, and a large ice pole of a corpse on the tray. It was made all the worse by the fact that an unknown surgeon would be coming to conduct the autopsy that afternoon in the company of Mr. Suk, the hospital director. The body had to be thawed out somehow before their arrival. They agreed that wrapping him in blankets would only have the effect of preserving the frozen state. It was a comparatively cool early December day and there was no heater. Madame Daeng, always calm in a crisis, suggested they wheel the soldier into the sunlight that filtered through the louvered window and sit close to the body so their own body heat might warm him up. The only other heat producer they could find was the Romanian water-boiling element. They plugged it in, placed the water pot at the end of the stainless-steel dolly, and watched it bubble.

As there was water on the boil and margarine peanut biscuits in the tin, why not, they thought, have a cup of tea or two? For modesty’s sake, and to catch the crumbs, a white cloth was draped over the captain’s nether regions. And there they sat, discussing the latest items to have disappeared from the shops.

“How’s he doing?” Daeng asked.

Dtui poked the skin with her spoon. “Another hour and he should be ready.”

“And who’s performing the autopsy? I thought Siri was the only one in the country qualified.”

“Well”–Dtui leaned back in her chair–“technically, Dr. Siri isn’t all that qualified either. I mean, he’s good, but he doesn’t have any formal training as a coroner. Our politburo didn’t seem to think that fact was terribly important; surgeon–coroner, same difference. Luckily for them, Siri’s a bit of a genius in a number of ways.” As Dtui wasn’t sure how much Daeng knew about the doctor’s spirit connections, she kept her praise vague.

“So, today . . . ?”

“Is some young hotshot surgeon who just got back from East Germany. He went over there as a medic six years ago. Amazing what they can achieve in the Eastern Bloc. Must be some type of fast track. But the new boy isn’t qualified to perform autopsies either. If our friend here hadn’t been a soldier they’d probably have kept him on ice till Siri got back. But the military are really curious to find out what killed their officer. The boys who brought him in said he hasn’t even been identified yet. They’re waiting for his unit to report him missing. The hospital director asked Hotshot if he could do an autopsy in a hurry and the fellow evidently said, ‘How hard can it be?’ Well, we’ll see.”

“It would have been a lot harder if we hadn’t thawed him out. I think it must be working. I’m starting to get a whiff.”

“Me too.”

“It looks like we generate more body heat than we thought.”

It was true. Both women had good reason to glow. Big, beautiful Dtui could thank her first sexual experience for the baby taking shape inside her. Fortunately, Phosy the policeman had done the right thing. Auntie Bpoo the fortune-teller had said the child would be a girl. Their daughter was barely three months along and Dtui had already given her a name and started to crochet pink sun hats for her. She would be fat and jolly and intelligent like her mother . . . and she’d be a doctor . . . and she’d get married before she got pregnant and not at a registry the week after the test came back positive. In that respect she wouldn’t be like her mother at all.

Madame Daeng glowed because, at sixty-six years of age, she’d been proposed to by a man she’d secretly loved for much of her life. When she had been reunited with Siri in the south just a few months earlier, those same old girlish feelings had still gurgled around inside her. She and Siri were both widowed now–both battered by cruel circumstances in a country that had only ever known war. But the two old warriors were gloriously open to new love. She’d unashamedly followed him back to Vientiane and kept her fingers crossed. Siri had proposed to her in a most un-Lao fashion: with flowers. To her joy he’d acquired that peculiar habit during his years in France. She’d refused him, of course. What respectable woman would accept a man’s first offer? And, luckily, he’d asked again, over coffee, not a flower in sight, and this time she’d accepted. They would marry immediately upon his return from the north.

“Do you suppose we can leave our little soldier now?” she asked Dtui.

“Absolutely! Let’s go open your restaurant. If he thaws out any more he’ll insist on coming with us.”

Mr. Geung agreed to watch the body and the two glowing ladies climbed onto their respective bicycles and rode out of the Mahosot Hospital grounds. They tinkled their bells as they turned left on Mahosot Road even though there was very little chance of being hit by anything but other bicycles. Vientiane was a cyclist’s paradise. Unless they had friends in the Party, very few citizens could afford to fill up their motorcycle tanks with petrol. Cars had become front yard ornaments. The sound of a passing engine prompted little children to run to the street’s edge and wave. Siri might have been right. Laos was shrinking back into a preindustrial age.

From the Hardcover edition.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 27, 2010

    Bargain Book Surprise

    The writing style, scenery discription and historical accuracy developed a rich and engaging story that was a truly delightful winter weekend read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2008

    Very Different, Very Good

    This is the first time I have read one of this author's books. I found it very unique, and a different kind of storyline. I also believe there is a little Vanessa in all of us. It was also interesting how Banks included historical happenings into this novel. Trust me, you will find this book of great interest.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 9, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The Reserve

    This novel was an engrossing, well written, fascinating story that held my interest to the very end. I read it in two sittings because I didn't want to put it down. A great read for a rainy day, or sitting by the fire at night. I felt like I knew the characters they were so well developed. Cudos to Russell Banks.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    Midna

    Walks in and drys herself and leaves

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2013

    Fang

    I dont know whwere he is

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    Sam

    I have friends but i lost the book there on. Im lookin for Jordon.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    Kevin

    Walks in trying to comfort Sam

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    Cat

    She hisses at the gun and snatches it running to res 12.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2013

    BATHROOMS

    Girls on left Boys on right

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2013

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2013

    Master

    Looks at his slave and smirks slightly. "Welcome Slave."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2012

    Awful...

    This book was absurd.....story line wasn't too bad, but the dialogue was for a 12 year old. Doubt I'll another Banks book.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews

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