In the Land of the Living

Austin Ratner, Author
Austin Ratner. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-20609-9
Reviewed on: 02/04/2013
Release date: 03/12/2013
Open Ebook - 978-0-316-20610-5
Open Ebook - 177 pages - 978-0-316-21602-9
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-316-20608-2
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There is a quality of memory to this spiky tale of family, the second novel from Ratner (after The Jump Artist); the focus moves from person to person, event to event, with more of a sense of emotional logic—and, maybe, more of a wandering attention span—than any narrative needs. Yet there is also a feeling of remove that is impersonal, almost sociopathic; lines of characterization and emotional progress start and stop abruptly, with something like cruelty at times. This is the story of three generations of men, beginning with Ezer Auberon, a Polish Jewish immigrant working as an itinerant carpenter in Cleveland, Ohio. He is the unloving father of Isidore, who dedicates himself to becoming everything his father is not—successful and loving as a father and husband. His sons Leo and Mack face their own difficult childhoods, despite their father’s resolutions, and grow into adults with much less grace than he. The events of their lives seem slapdash at times—an uncomfortable combination of suddenly dropped plotlines and indulgent prose eddies—creating a distance that makes it hard to carry on with these unhappy men. Though the characters are objectionably flawed, they are compelling, and the bonds between these brothers and fathers and sons are convincing and raw. Agent: Einstein Thompson Agency (formerly LJK Literary Management). (Mar.)
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