The Life I Lead

Keith Banner, Author Alfred A. Knopf $23 (272p) ISBN 978-0-375-40376-7
Small-town America, or at least Anderson, Ind., comes across as a hotbed of ignorant fundamentalism and pedophilia in Banner's intense but unconvincing first novel. The protagonist, David Brewer, is a meter reader, a job that allows him time to agonize over his predilection for little boys, and then to act on his predatory fantasies. Lately, he is obsessed with seven-year-old Nathan Marcum. Dave is all the scarier for perfecting his disguise as a mild-mannered, churchgoing family man. He's married to Tara, and has an infant daughter, Brittany. No one knows that in 1972, when Dave himself was six, he was molested by his teenage babysitter, Troy Wetzel; it is a ritual Dave is now helplessly repeating. In an implausible twist, Dave thinks about confessing his behavior to Reverend Lewis, the pastor of his fundamentalist church, but Lewis is predictably and violently homophobic. Dave starts to break down when his father, whose physical abuse created constant fear during Dave's childhood, is taken to a nursing facility after an operation for cancer. Coincidentally, Troy is now working in the nursing home. David's inability to cope with this emotional overload leads to his final, desperate assault on Nathan. Elements of Banner's story are searingly honest, especially David's frequent internal monologues documenting his struggle to avoid becoming the very monster who victimized him. But the many small-town, small-minded characters are flat, and burdened with inconsistent and stereotypical ""hick"" voices. David and Troy, however, both speak in a strange combination of unlikely self-awareness and dramatized, pokey ignorance; neither of these styles, meant to express the denial/awareness split in the pedophiles' psyches, ease the novel out from its tortured center. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999
Release date: 05/01/1999
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