The Very Air: A Novel

Overview


Luther Mathias sells “snake oil” in scrubby West Texas dirt towns. He learns that substance is never a substitute for style and eventually develops his own remedies that promise to cure any ailment a man might suffer. In time, his imagination and ambition combine to mold him into medicine’s version of Elmer Gantry: loved and hated, imponderably wealthy and famous, powerful and pursued.
 
The Very Air is a compelling exploration of human ...
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The Very Air

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Overview


Luther Mathias sells “snake oil” in scrubby West Texas dirt towns. He learns that substance is never a substitute for style and eventually develops his own remedies that promise to cure any ailment a man might suffer. In time, his imagination and ambition combine to mold him into medicine’s version of Elmer Gantry: loved and hated, imponderably wealthy and famous, powerful and pursued.
 
The Very Air is a compelling exploration of human motives and hidden meanings. It is a detailed picture of America’s myth of the rugged individual in the psychological and narrative tradition of The Great Gatsby and Citizen Kane. With a resonant sense of the period and culture, Douglas Bauer evokes the freewheeling feel of the old Southwest in the charlatans of our own era. The Very Air shows, through storytelling both exhilarating and chilling, that the past is prologue and that our personal histories indeed shape the course of our individual futures.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Chillingly eloquent and very much in the American grain.”—Newsday, Dan Cryer

“. . . suspenseful, poignant, and irresistibly entertaining. Bauer makes some wonderful observations about life in America during the 1900s, and about humanity’s eternal need for illusion, and his characterization is sharp and funny.”—Publisher’s Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The first half of this Dickensian novel by the author of the highly praised Dexterity is so suspenseful, poignant and irresistibly entertaining that even when the pace slows toward the middle of the narrative, readers will remain engrossed in hopes that Bauer will again discover his early inventiveness and verve. Although no resurrection occurs, the story is memorable by virtue of the conception of its protagonist, Luther Mathias. In an opening scene electric with portent, 10-year-old Luther's mother dies on their isolated Texas ranch in 1905, and Luther must ride alone to send a telegram to his father. Put in the care of his eccentric Aunt Joyce and Uncle Ray--as jolly a pair of swindlers as one could encounter--Luther joins their traveling medicine show. When death again interrupts his existence, Luther is warped by a sense of betrayal; moreover, he has adopted his uncle's view of human beings as prey waiting to be duped. Eventually, Luther becomes an (uncertified) ``doctor for male diseases,'' and his life crosses those of beautiful movie star Alyce Rae and her husband Billy Boswell. Overcome by hubris, Luther pretends to be a surgeon who can rejuvenate Billy's sexual performance via monkey gland implants. His subsequent rise as a medical charlatan marks the story's decline; the narrative loses its juice and becomes a cautionary tale of a self-made man propelled by anger, resentment and a need for power. Bauer makes some wonderful observations about life in America during the 1900s, and about humanity's eternal need for illusion, and his characterization is sharp and funny. But as Luther becomes inflated with self-importance, the narrative, too, becomes bloated and slow, and its early promise is dispelled. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781609382681
  • Publisher: University of Iowa Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2014
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 378

Meet the Author


Douglas Bauer is the author of several books, including What Happens Next? Matters of Life and Death (Iowa, 2013), Prairie City, Iowa: Three Seasons at Home (Iowa, 2008), The Stuff of Fiction: Advice on Craft, and three novels, Dexterity, The Very Air, and The Book of Famous Iowans. His edited works include Death by Pad Thai and Other Unforgettable Meals and Prime Times: Writers on Their Favorite TV Shows. He lives in Boston and teaches literature at Bennington College.
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