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The History of Now
     

The History of Now

4.5 2
by Daniel Klein
 

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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

Overview

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?

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.)

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Library Journal

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.
—Kevin Greczek

Kirkus Reviews
How the past influences what follows, and how self-understanding inspires broader comprehension of all things: These are the themes of this gently philosophical family chronicle, the first volume of a planned trilogy. Klein, a veteran novelist and co-author of the whimsical bestseller Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar (2008), channels his inner Thornton Wilder in this piecemeal history of a New England village (Grandville, Mass.), which combines the family-album features of Our Town with the inconclusive fatalism of The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Its central narrative focuses on Wendell deVries, heir to and proprietor of the Phoenix, a former vaudeville theater that's now the local movie house, and on long-divorced Wendell's family. His unmarried daughter Franny, who spearheads Grandville's community theater group and publicly protests the Iraq War, carries burdens she'll be unable to keep bearing. Other plots embrace Franny's beautiful, headstrong teenaged daughter Lila; a guidance counselor obsessed with Harvard and with managing his daughter's future; miscellaneous do-gooders and miscreants, culture vultures and over- and underachievers; and-in a slowly developing subplot-a Colombian youth, Hector Mondragon, whose flight from his country's dangers and his own misdeeds will lead him eventually to Grandville, and a deeply ironic fulfillment of his American dream. The novel is both enriched and flawed by numerous historical flashbacks which preach the inevitability of the past's shaping power, and there are far too many such episodes in the book's final 100 pages. Furthermore, Wendell's hangdog decency, which includes a genuine yearning to discover the truth about his family's occludedethnicity, is far too reminiscent of Richard Russo's rumpled antiheroes-just as Klein's plot carries excessive reminders of Empire Falls. Absorbing, nevertheless, though the novel never lives up to the promise of its vivid early chapters and enormously appealing characters.
Booklist - David Pitt
"This is one of those novels you sink into, like a familiar and comfortable chair. Klein writes in clear, precise language, crafting characters who reveal themselves gradually, telling a small-town story that will resonate with every reader, even the big city types. This story is written in the present tense, with the author/narrator occasionally speaking directly to the reader--a device that feels just right. In fact, everything about the novel, from its cast to its setting to its
March 2009 - Publishers Weekly
"A charming philosophical lesson in this story of destiny and history colliding in a fictional New England town. 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."
Review - Kirkus Reviews
"How the past influences what follows, and how self-understanding inspires broader comprehension of all things: These are the themes of this gently philosophical family chronicle. Klein channels his inner Thornton Wilder in this piecemeal history of a New England village (Grandville, Mass.), which combines the family-album features of Our Town with the inconclusive fatalism of The Bridge of San Luis Rey."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781579621810
Publisher:
Permanent Press, The
Publication date:
03/28/2009
Pages:
296
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.10(d)

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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The History of Now 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
allisonmariecat More than 1 year ago
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.