Shadow Play

Overview

"In his quiet cosmic wonderment, Baxter is the equal of John Updike and Anne Tyler at their largest and best."?GQ
Without question Charles Baxter, whose ravishing novel The Feast of Love was a National Book Award finalist, is one of our finest contemporary writers. These two books, set in the Michigan landscape that Baxter has made his own, display his unparalleled gift for revealing the unexpected in everyday life. In the novel Shadow Play, a decent man, having made a "devil's bargain," finds himself on that ...

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Overview

"In his quiet cosmic wonderment, Baxter is the equal of John Updike and Anne Tyler at their largest and best."—GQ
Without question Charles Baxter, whose ravishing novel The Feast of Love was a National Book Award finalist, is one of our finest contemporary writers. These two books, set in the Michigan landscape that Baxter has made his own, display his unparalleled gift for revealing the unexpected in everyday life. In the novel Shadow Play, a decent man, having made a "devil's bargain," finds himself on that precarious border between personal love and social responsibility. Reading group guide included.

His wife does gymnastics and magic tricks. His crazy mother invents her own vocabulary, and his aunt writes her own version of the Bible. Through all this, Wyatt Palmer tries to live a normal life. But when he lures a toxic waste producing chemical plant to his economically depressed town, Wyat discovers he has truly made a deal with the Devil.

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Editorial Reviews

Dallas Morning News
Powerful...an invigorating experience.
Lorrie Moore
Big, moving, rich with life and story. —New York Times Book Review
Michiko Kakutani
We have the satisfaction of having been immersed in a beautifully rendered and fully imagined world. —New York Times
GQ
In his quiet cosmic wonderment, Baxter is the equal of John Updike and Anne Tyler at their largest and best.
Library Journal
In this tale of normalcy mixed with eccentricity and lunacy, Wyatt Palmer's father spends his weekends in the family basement, building incomprehensible model houses and filling a drawer with philosophical notes. After he dies, Wyatt's mother goes off the deep end, making up words and talking to herself. Wyatt is eventually raised by his Aunt Ellen, who is writing a new bible. Although Wyatt has artistic talent, after college he marries and cultivates a super-normal life in his Midwestern hometown, working as an assistant city manager. The outside world invades Wyatt's ``normal'' life when a schoolmate builds a factory that emits toxic fumes inside its own building, which brings about the death of Wyatt's jailbird cousin, Cyril. In the aftermath, Wyatt flees to New York City, where his mother feels at home. Baxter is at his best in his short stories e.g., A Relative Stranger , LJ 8/87; here, he leaves the reader with less than satisfying resolutions. But his odd characters, set in familiar American landscapes and rendered in a fine, controlled style, remain vivid. Recommended for public libraries.-- Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib., New York
Lorrie Moore
"Big, moving, rich with life and story...Baxter has...gone into the ordinary secret places of people -- their moral and emotional quandaries, their typically American circumstances, their burning intelligence, their negotiations with what is trapped, stunted, violent, sustaining, decent or miraculous in their lives." -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393322743
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/28/2001
  • Pages: 400
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota.

Biography

Although his body of work includes poetry and essays, award-winning writer Charles Baxter is best known for his fiction -- brilliantly crafted, non-linear stories that twist and turn in unexpected directions before reaching surprising yet nearly always satisfying conclusions. He specializes in portraits of solid Midwesterners, regular Joes and Janes whose ordinary lives are disrupted by accidents, chance encounters, and the arrival of strangers; and his books have garnered a fierce and loyal following among readers and critics alike.

Born in Minneapolis in 1947, Baxter was barely a toddler when his father died. His mother remarried a wealthy attorney who moved the family onto a sprawling estate in suburban Excelsior. From prep school, Baxter was expected to attend Williams, but instead he chose Macalester, a small, liberal arts college in St. Paul. Intending to pursue a career in teaching and writing, he enrolled in the Ph.D. program at the State University of New York at Buffalo, attracted by a faculty that included such literary luminaries of the day as John Barth and Donald Barthelme.

After grad school, Baxter moved to Michigan to teach at Wayne State University in Detroit. He spent more than a decade concentrating on writing poetry, but after a particularly discouraging dry spell, he decided to try his hand at fiction. He labored long and hard over three novels, none of which was accepted for publication. Then, just as he was about to give up altogether, he attempted one last trick. He whittled the three novels down to short stories, replacing epic themes, extraordinary characters, and ambitious story arcs with the small, quiet stuff of ordinary life. It was a good decision, In 1984, his first collection of short fiction, Harmony of the World, was published. Another anthology followed, then a debut novel. Published in 1987, First Light charmed readers with its unusual structure (the story unfolds backwards in time) and a cast of richly, draw, fully human characters.

Baxter continued to publish throughout the 1990s, alternating between short and full-length fiction, and with each book he garnered larger, more appreciative audiences and better reviews. His breakthrough occurred in 2000 with Feast of Love, a novel composed of many small stories that form a single, cohesive narrative. Described by The New York Times as "...rich, juicy, laugh-out-loud funny and completely engrossing," Feast of Love was nominated for a National Book Award.

"Every time I've finished a book, it feels to me as if the washrag has been rung out," Baxter confessed in a 2003 interview. Yet he keeps on crafting absorbing stories infused with quiet (sometimes absurdist) wit and a compassionate understanding of the human condition. A longtime director of the creative writing program at the University of Michigan, he is known as a generous mentor, and several of his students have gone on to forge successful literary careers of their own.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview, Baxter shared some fascinating insights with us:

"My novels are sometimes criticized for being episodic, or structurally weird. And they are! I like them that way. It's fairly late in the day -- 2003 as I write -- in the history of the novel, and I think it's fair for writers to mess around with that form, and to stop thinking that they have to write books that move smoothly from the first act to the second act, and then to the climax and the denouement. I like digressions, asides, intrusions, advice, anything that gets in the way of a smooth narcotic flow. New novels should not look like old novels, except when they want to."

"My father died when I was eighteen months old, and I expect the unexpected to happen in life and in art, and my fiction is full, or loaded down, with unexpected fatalities of one kind or another. For me, that's realism."

"I had an unhappy childhood that I thought was happy, and I dove into books as inspiration and relief and comfort and security and information about what people did and how they thought. I can still get happy and sentimental just over the thought of libraries -- the image of a woman sitting quietly and reading is a terrifically sexy image for me."

"Like many writers, I'm private and quiet and observant and bookish. For a physical outlet, I lift weights at the gym two or three times a week, and I don't quit unless and until I've worked up a fairly good sweat. Many writers need an outlet like that to counter the sedentary nature of what they do. I don't have any wild delusions about the greatness of my work: I am happy to work humbly in this field where so many writers have created so many immortal manifestations of the mind and spirit. As Henry James said, you work in the dark; you do what you can; the rest is the madness of art."

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

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