Blue River

Ethan Canin, Author
Ethan Canin, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $19.95 (222p) ISBN 978-0-395-49854-5
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-0-446-39447-5
Hardcover - 978-0-517-16685-7
Paperback - 217 pages - 978-0-7475-3993-3
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This eloquent story of two men destined to become ``good brother'' and ``bad brother'' is an ambitious but ultimately disappointing novel by the author of the acclaimed 1988 collection Emperor of the Air. Edward, a successful California ophthalmologist, finds a bum on his doorstep one morning, only to realize that it's his estranged brother Lawrence, whose life has gone steadily downhill. Edward manages to get Lawrence out of town, but the meeting has been an overdue awakening for Edward, and the remainder of the story consists of his examination of their shared past, written in a first-person narrative told to a ``you'' who is Lawrence. ``Always do what you're afraid of,'' Lawrence had advised Edward when they were growing up in Wisconsin. Lawrence got into fights, seduced girls, stole, caused destruction. Edward was studious, active in the community. Each played the part assigned, it seemed by their mother, although Edward now thinks that Lawrence had a secret purpose in behaving as he did. The revelations of Edward's melancholy, truth-seeking exploration may lead to a rapprochement. Along the way, confusion about what happened in the ambiguous past, betrayals and the chaos of their shared history are unfurled with precision and grace. But Canin's attempt to get inside Edward's psyche results in a flattened tone and lack of passion, perhaps intended to provoke the reader into making his own judgment about which brother is good and which is evil. The effect, however, is to distance the reader too thoroughly; the characters' interior landscapes are bleak and the narrative lacks dramatic momentum. In the end, this promising novel is itself somewhat flat and disaffecting. $100,000 ad/promo; author tour. (Oct.)
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