DOLCE AGONIA

Nancy Huston, Author
Nancy Huston, Author . Steerforth $22 (240p) ISBN 978-1-58642-028-4
Reviewed on: 10/08/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Hardcover - 240 pages - 978-1-55278-244-6
Hardcover - 290 pages - 978-0-7011-7323-4
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-09-942963-0
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It is a truism that an author is the god of the universe he or she creates, and it must be tempting for a novelist to make the leap from omniscient narrator to Omniscient Narrator. Huston succumbs to this temptation in her ninth novel (her third published in the United States), as God the Narrator makes clear in the prologue. The occasion God chooses to narrate is the Thanksgiving dinner Irish poet Sean Farrell hosts at his New England home. His 12 guests are all residents of an academic community and are, with few exceptions, middle-aged or older, their personal résumés full of suffering and loss. As the too-long meal progresses, the narrator gets up close and personal with the characters, baring their unspoken thoughts and their difficult pasts. But between courses, God shifts from closeup to panorama, revealing in swift strokes the fate of each character. Thus, their death agonies are portrayed, as are their lifelong agonies, and very few of their fates are sweet. It is to Huston's credit that she creates a diverse but plausible cast, including a native of Belarus, a South African from Odessa, an African-American poet, a famous American novelist, an Italian secretary, a doctor, a lawyer, a baker (but no candlestick maker). She chooses, however, a setup difficult to make compelling: an uneventful, talk-filled evening during which the important dramas are internal. While Huston spins a provocative riff on God and love (God doesn't love, but we do; that's what makes us free), a reader might wish Huston had made her narrator God as magnanimous as She is omniscient. Likewise, God warns that She is unconcerned with "protagonists and antagonists, a climax and a dénouement." God might be above such things, but the reader usually is not, and some readers will wish Huston had stuck to her mortal roots. (Nov.)

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