cover image As a Friend

As a Friend

Forrest Gander, . . New Directions, $13.95 (106pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1745-3

An adoring friendship turns deadly in poet and translator Gander's visceral if too brief first novel. Les is the magnetic, godlike protagonist of this reflective four-part narrative: introduced at the time of his difficult birth to a teenage mother, he is put up for adoption. Years later, he is observed by Clay, a colleague on his land-surveying team in a small town in Arkansas, who finds his friend's mannerisms and dissembling so compelling that he apes Les and eventually betrays him. Les, a part-time poet and practical joker, is beloved for his eccentricities, especially by his second wife, Cora, and mistress, Sarah, whose poetic remembrances of Les after his suicide make up the novel's third section and reveal hopelessly guilt-ridden Sarah to be angry, grieving for her tender, quirky lover. Gander's passionate construction of Les reveals a character deeply conflicted, comprising enormous virtue and many flaws, though in the end the work remains piecemeal and incomplete, though nicely done. (Oct.)