cover image Foregone


Russell Banks. Ecco, $28.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-303675-8

In this sinuous if uneven novel, Banks (Lost Memory of Skin) depicts the protean character of a filmmaker who turns the camera on himself at the end of a storied career. In the last stages of an incurable cancer, Canadian documentarian Leonard Fife sits to be interviewed in his Montreal apartment for a film being made by his former student, Malcolm. Fife’s life has been built around lies and evasions, and now he seeks to set the record straight, though the confession is directed less to the public than to his third and current wife, Emma. Instead of answering questions about his Errol Morris–like style, Fife delivers a leisurely self-portrait of serial flight: running away from home in Massachusetts as a teenager; leaving his first wife and young daughter as a confused young bohemian to be a writer; abandoning his second wife and young son to dodge the draft in 1968. However, only some of Fife’s confessions might be true, as one side effect of his medication is “confabulation.” Fife’s reminiscences are generally vivid, though the spell is dissipated by the weaker scenes in which, for instance, Emma repeatedly objects to proceeding with the interview and the sycophantic Malcolm reiterates the novel’s themes in windy proclamations. Still, Banks keeps the audience rapt. Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (Mar.)