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The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter
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's review
Jul 11, 08

really liked it
bookshelves: so-glad-i-read
Read in September, 2007

Charles Baxter may have started out as a short story writer, but his latest efforts of note have been his novels. _The Feast of Love_ was a finalist for the National Book Award, and I can see why (though I have still to compare it to that year's winner). The idea is somewhat Kundera-esque--the novel begins with writer 'Charlie Baxter' waking in the middle of the night from a dream of asynchronous gears and finds that he is suffering from temporary amnesia. Once recovered, he decides to take a walk to calm his nerves, and while doing so runs into a neighbor, Bradley, who has a dog of the same name. As they talk, the subject of love comes up, and 'Charlie Baxter' decides to make Bradley the first subject in his new project--a novel about love.

From there, the narrative is taken over by the characters the writer talks to for their stories and reflections on love. Aside from Bradley, we meet his two ex-wives, and a young couple, Oscar and Chloe, who work at Bradley's coffee shop. There is also Harry Ginsberg and his wife, Esther, who live next door to Bradley. Quite quickly, three generations are established to offer different perspectives of love. The interest Baxter sustains here is that the stories are all quite difficult--Bradley has definitely run a string of bad luck when it comes to choosing wives. One is very confused about her sexuality, another is not sure if she wants to relinquish the lover she has when she meets Bradley. Oscar and Chloe fall under the temptations of quick money to allow them to get away together from their bad home situations, and with the allure of quick money comes contact with less than scrupulous people. Even Harry and Esther have a troublesome son, Aaron, who likes to call in the middle of the night to extort money out of his folks.

Baxter's fiction is sometimes a little too distancing, when his characters too freely discuss philosophy or obscure ancient music, playing up the element of quirkiness, but making the characters themselves more representative than sympathetic. _The Feast of Love_ does have moments of quirky conversation, but Baxter sustains it all quite well in this book. Most all of the characters feel very substantial, possibly because Baxter has found a format that permits introspection and philosophy very naturally.

I was quite impressed with this novel and read it quite thoroughly. I found all of the characters engaging and the hints of danger palpable and possible. Baxter is out to paint the Midwest as a solace for the introspective and quietly conflicted. Possibly this is the Midwest Baxter has known all of his life, or perhaps it is a fictive world that he hopes will find a niche in American literature. Either way, this novel has definitely broken solid ground in literary tradition.
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