Klein (Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington) crafts a charming philosophical lesson in this story of destiny and history colliding in a fictional New England town. Wendell deVries, a solitary man with a "dog-like dedication to familiarity," operates the projection booth inside the Phoenix theater in Grandville, Mass., founded by his grandparents. He shows movies for New York "second-homers" and locals, except on Tuesdays, when his 37-year-old daughter, Franny, conducts drama club meetings. When Franny's set design is criticized by Babs Dowd, a well-known New York designer who challenges Franny's role as drama leader, Franny's life spins out of control and she lands in the sanitarium. Reluctantly agreeing to a buyout from Babs in order to take care of his family, Wendell must leave his insular world in the projection booth and face the real world. All the while, Franny's daughter, Lila, struggles to find her niche in high school. Blending the present-day story with tidbits from Grandville history, Klein brings the town vividly to life. As the drama unfolds, the actors remind us that destiny is writ in history. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The History of Nowby Daniel Klein
Small, almost imperceptible changes are rippling through the New England village of Grandville, altering it in ways its inhabitants cannot yet imagine. Laced through a narrative of one recent year in Grandville's history are stories that reach back to a 17th century family in Rotterdam, and 18th century migration by a farmer's lonely son in the Massachusetts Bay… See more details below
Small, almost imperceptible changes are rippling through the New England village of Grandville, altering it in ways its inhabitants cannot yet imagine. Laced through a narrative of one recent year in Grandville's history are stories that reach back to a 17th century family in Rotterdam, and 18th century migration by a farmer's lonely son in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and a 19th century underground railway journey by a gifted runaway slave. Each episode comes to bear on the lives of Grandville's current residents. Does every event, no matter how small or distant in the past influence all events that follow?
Despite its shortcomings, this sweet book is a satisfying read containing several aspects of a fine novel, including adequate character development, interesting philosophical meditations, and the ability to illuminate the intricacies of seemingly unexceptional small-town life. But Klein's story, set in the fictional, Richard Russo-like town of Grandville, MA, gets too often bogged down by throwaway dialog and the epiphanies the author forces on his characters. The book revolves around the de Vries family, which consists of Wendell; his unmarried thirty-something daughter, Franny; and her teenage daughter, Lila. Wendell and Franny have lived in tiny Grandville their whole lives, without any inclination ever to leave despite the gradual descent of well-off "second-homers" from New York City. Much like the town itself, all three characters eventually break out of their self-imposed shells to varying degrees, with varying results. Klein uses these characters to demonstrate how extensive personal growth can occur without leaving the confines of your small town. Recommended for large fiction collections.
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Meet the Author
Daniel Martin Klein (born 1939 in Wilmington, Delaware) is an American writer of fiction, non-fiction, and humor. His most notable work is Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar co-written with Thomas Cathcart. It was a New York Times bestseller and is translated into 26 languages.
Klein went to school at Harvard College where he received a B.A. in philosophy. After a brief career in television comedy, he began writing books, ranging from thrillers and mysteries to humorous books about philosophy. He lives in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and is married to Freke Vuijst, American correspondent for the Dutch newsweekly, 'Vrij Nederland'.
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Daniel Klein's novel, The History of Now, is an ingenious philosophical examination of cause and effect and, at the same time, an engaging story of a small-town family. That Klein manages to execute both premises successfully is impressive indeed. The New England village of Grandville has been the home of generations of the deVries family; Wendell, who never wanted to leave the projection booth of the theater-turned-cinema, his daughter Franny, a doubt-ridden artist, and his granddaughter Lila, whose lack of ambition is truly impressive. Klein dips far into the family's past (as far back as the 1600s in The Netherlands) to examine the causes of the current situation and to ask the question, "What is now?" If events are shaped by causes and produce effects, which are in turn causes to other effects (and so on), then is 'now' the current moment or does it encompass all the causes that came before and the effects that will come after? For those less interested in the philosophical bent, the small-town/family drama that unfolds has more than enough to hold the reader's attention. Wendell, whose disastrous marriage has left him alone (except for his dog, a charming character) and clinging to the movie house of his childhood, begins to open up and find love again. At the same time, his daughter, Franny, is headed toward a breakdown as she obsesses over the unjustness of the war in Iraq and struggles to bring meaning to a vapid community theater production. As if that weren't enough, his granddaughter, Lila, is smoking pot and seems to have lost direction. When Lila shows interest in her roots (by way of a revelation that Grandville was once home to a black family named deVries), Wendell is delighted to investigate. An unrelated (for the moment) storyline brings Hector, a young Colombian, closer to Grandville. Klein has woven these plots (and subplots involving other Grandville residents) into a graceful picture of a small town, the past that has shaped it, and the events that continue to unfold with glimpses into its future. A couple of jarring notes: Hector's story pulled me out of Grandville. It's obvious that he will be important in shaping Grandville events, but since his perspective is left out once he reaches Grandville, I really felt the payoff for being pulled out of the story wasn't worth it. In addition, the war in Iraq was a bit intrusive. I think it's very difficult to work current events into a novel, and while some references (Franny's protest group) are central to the plot, the references became a bit too much. And since the war isn't even over, they are already outdated (with criticism of a former President). However, neither of these is enough to lower my rating by more than a half-star. This is an excellent read that combines philosophy with small-town quirks and the search for meaning.