cover image The Soldier

The Soldier

R. C. Binstock. Soho Press, $24 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-56947-059-6

The scenario at the center of Binstock's second novel may be the stuff of male fantasy--a middle-aged writer finding true love with his comely cousin--but it's redeemed by the novel's elegantly austere prose and by its frank, perceptive meditations on suffering, relationships and the creative process. The 46-year-old Phillip has been living alone in the New Hampshire woods for more than a decade, turning out critically acclaimed but commercially weak novels, when Jeannie, the 23-year-old daughter of his beloved Aunt Carla, arrives to apprentice as a writer. Carla was the bright spot of Phillip's lonely childhood, his surrogate mother after his own passed away. Now long-denied desires for her, for human companionship and for carnal relations with a beautiful young woman increasingly trouble Phillip as Jennie's stay wears on. The narrative of the pair's emerging relationship is fractured by excerpts from Phillip's novel-in-progress about a Civil War soldier and by the ruminations of a ghost who haunts the soldier's house. This results in the introduction of intriguing parallel themes, but also in occasional confusion among characters' voices. In the surprising conclusion to this quiet, thoughtful work, the tragic fate that befalls the Civil War soldier will mirror Phillip's own. British, translation, first serial, dramatic rights: Smith/Skolnik. (May)