By Russell Banks
ISBN No. 978-0-307-40173-1
This novel could be made up of headlines: “Youth Sex Offender Lives under causeway”, “University Professor exploits sex offender youth”, “university professor has secrets of his own.” Then – no spoiler alert here – each of those headlines is rolled out and folded into the developing plot in the same way that modern media “advances” a story: characters are cast, secrets are revealed, lives are redeemed or destroyed. That might seem calculated but given the demands of publishing these days (books need to be topical, readable and, most of all, marketable) even well-established writers are looking to the cultural zeitgeist and publisher’s publicist for their inspiration. Reading this book I kept thinking I was researching a story ABOUT the story in the book. Was this Russell Banks’ intention? (Some of the same themes – albeit litigiously – were covered in “The Sweet Hereafter.”) The only thing that kept reminding me it was a novel – and a good one - was the author’s trademark dour dialogue and drawn-out description. Few serious writers are as seriously talented as Russell Banks.