Well, let me be honest, Russell Banks' The Reserve totally surprised me. The only other novel by Banks that I've read was The Sweet Hereafter and, while I enjoyed it at the time, the only reason I had for reading it was to compare it to the film, which was excellent. I tried and abandoned Cloudsplitter, and never went back to Banks. But, I've got my new reading approach, and B is for Banks in my American fiction section, and hence, The Reserve.
Not unlike Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife, The Reserve has a totally unreliable and somewhat wicked female protagonist. Beautiful, charming, and terrifically disturbed, Vanessa Cole has returned to her parents' summer home after her second divorce. It's 1936, and her behaviour remains scandalous throughout the novel. And when artist Jordan Groves flies in to see her father's art collection, he's lured into a dangerous relationship with the woman that has far reaching consequences for both of them, and for their families.
There's a Gatsby meets Hemingway feeling to this novel. The Coles are of the upper classes, and it's not just money that separates them from the locals. But the fact that they own a section of an exclusive property in the Adirondacks called The Reserve. The locals work there; the summer people only vacation, and this dichotomy is explored throughout the novel, especially when Vanessa turns to the guide Hubert St. Germain to help her with the tragic situation that becomes the pinnacle moment in the book. When her father dies suddenly of a heart attack, Vanessa's demons, whether real or imagined (the novel only hints at the truth), are unleashed. And her actions are shocking.
Banks excels at plotting and the novel simply draws you in from start to finish. His descriptions of the setting are incredible and do much to add to the atmosphere that surrounds Vanessa's questionable actions. The fog that lies low over the lake echoes her state of mind kind of thing, and while it might sound sound cheesy when I write it here, I'm not doing Banks' exceptional prose justice. There's not a hint of melodrama, and there could be, and even though you feel you know these characters -- the flighty socialite, the rugged outdoorsman, the unhappy wife, the "artist" as "man" (aka Jackson Pollack), Banks has a way of twisting them just slightly to the left or the right, whether it's by their dialogue, or the actions that ultimately unhinge them, that casts them away from type.
I roared through this book. Once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I left the RRBB sleeping on me for hours so as not to disturb either his napping (I should have put him in his bed as we're trying to do more of these days) or my reading time. At one point, he was curled up on the bed beside me as I dove through the final thirty pages or so, with me rubbing his tummy so he would sleep just that little bit longer and I could finish. I was that engrossed. Sure, there are loose ends. Sure, there were things that could have been tidier, but on the whole The Reserve is damn fine novel, and it makes me actually want to read more Russell Banks. Thankfully, I've still got a copy of Cloudsplitter, as it's a 1001 Books book, which means it's now in alphabetical order -- and once I've finished my International "A" selection (Purple Hibiscus), I'm on to 1001 Books titles. But it'll be a while before I get to the "Bs". I've got three Austen novels to get through first.
Sigh. My life is rough, isn't it?