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Affliction ()

    Some magazine was asking writers what they would have become if they hadn't become a
    writer, and I said what would have happened to me is that I would have been stabbed to death in
    the parking lot outside a bar in Florida at 24, or something like that.
                                            -Russell Banks to an Interviewer

Affliction is apparently a somewhat autobiographical novel about Wade Whitehouse, a crude & somewhat brutal son of a truly barbarous father.  Wade is now in his forties, lives in the Mountains of Central New Hampshire and works as a well driller, snow plower and town constable. His high school sweetheart wife has left him and taken their daughter.  Now Wade is reduced to living alone in a wind swept trailer and drinking way too much.  Over the course of the novel, this is apparently a common theme for Banks, he realizes how desolate and desperate his life has become and he begins to lash out at his abusive father, shrewish ex-wife, his tyrannical boss and the towns uppity part time residents, the idle rich in their ski chalets.  In particular, he becomes obsessed with regaining custody of his daughter and with proving that a seeming hunting accident was actually murder.

These twin compulsions turn out to be a lever with which Wade can pry open his hemmed in life and assert power for once.  But the exercise of power and the awakening of self carry dangers which Wade is ill equipped to confront and tragedy lurks around the corner.

I liked this book much better than I expected to; the movie ads seem to promise merely another domestic abuse fiesta, but that story line is really somewhat peripheral.  Wade's struggle to gain some control over his life is nearly heroic and we root for him top succeed.  But Banks piles on such melodramatics that we anticipate that he is doomed.

There's also another weakness, and a more significant one.  The story is narrated by Wade's brother in such an omniscient manner that it becomes distracting.  You continually find yourself saying, how does he know that fact or know how that person felt.  Also, the tone of his narration is so portentous that we know early on that Wade is headed for disaster; too early.

In the end, I recommend the book, but less whole heartedly than Ernest Hebert's similar cycle of New Hampshire novels.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

General Literature
Russell Banks Links:
WIKIPEDIA: Russell Banks -OBIT: Russell Banks, Novelist Steeped in the Working Class, Dies at 82: He brought his own sometimes painful blue-collar experiences to bear in acclaimed stories exploring issues of race, class and power in American life. (Rebecca Cgace, 1/08/23, NY Times)
    -TRIBUTE: Remembering Russell Banks: Mary Morris on Her Long Friendship With the Author of American Spirits: "I grew up with Russell—as a writer, as a teacher and thinker, and as a friend." (Mary Morris, March 5, 2024, LitHub)
-ESSAY: Russell Banks on the Time He Fled Bread Loaf with Nelson Algren: Algren Got Fired, Banks Made a Friend (Adam Colman, January 11, 2023, LitHub)
-TRIBUTE: In Memory of Russell Banks: Rick Moody on an Iconic Writer’s Life, Work and Legacy (In Conversation with Whitney Terrell and V.V. Ganeshananthan, January 19, 2023, LitHub)
-ARCHIVES: Russell Banks (LitHub)

Book-related and General Links:
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: (NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: The Star-Spangled Novel:  Still Waiting, After All These Years, for an American  Literature (RUSSELL BANKS, LA Times)
    -Review(New York Times, Elizabeth Tallent)
    -Review (NY Times, Michiko Kakutani)
    -Interview (Salon)
    -NY State Writers Institute: Russell Banks
    -REVIEW: of The Angel on the Roof: The Stories of Russell Banks (A. O. Scott, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : The Puzzle of John Brown :  "Russell Banks's wonderfully crafted novel studies the personality of John Brown, the Harpers Ferry raider. Brown makes a good subject for a novelist because he is one of the most enigmatic personalities in American history..." (Tim Stafford, Christianity Today)

If you liked Affliction, try:

Hebert, Ernest
    -The Dogs of March