American spirits

Russell Banks, 1940-

Book - 2024

"Three interlocking stories focusing on the residents of a town called Sam Dent, the undercurrent of the Trump movement in America, and a series of local tragedies"--

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FICTION/Banks Russell
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Location Call Number   Status
1st Floor New Shelf FICTION/Banks Russell (NEW SHELF) Due Apr 24, 2024
New York : Alfred A. Knopf [2024]
Main Author
Russell Banks, 1940- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
220 pages ; 22 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

The late Banks was our chief chronicler of the working class, the patron saint of the blue collar. This collection of three stories returns to the memorable haunt of Sam Dent, where the locals struggle to pay the bills while performing odd jobs for the wealthy summer folks. In "Nowhere Man," young couple Doug and Debbie are raising their two children in a small house built on a parcel of land that is a fraction of the vast acreage once owned by Doug's family. When the new landowner begins operating a firing range, Doug becomes enraged and begins a battle he cannot possibly win. In "Homeschooling," new residents Barbara and Kenneth Odell buy a house on the outskirts of town, where their only neighbors are a white lesbian couple homeschooling four adopted Black children, and soon learn a disconcerting truth. Finally, in "Kidnapped," an elderly couple is kidnapped after their not-so-bright grandson reconnects with his long-estranged and troubled mother. Each tale bears the unmistakable imprint of a true literary giant, who will be dearly missed.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Banks's elegant tryptic of novellas, arriving a year after his death at 82, evoke a hardscrabble Upstate New York setting reminiscent of his novels The Sweet Hereafter and Rule of the Bone. Each story touches on themes of community, family, and survival in small-town Sam Dent, N.Y., where hiking and hunting are prized and everyone knows one another. "Nowhere Man" starts with a minor confrontation between local hunter Doug and brusque businessman Yuri Zingerman, who owns property in the area but lives elsewhere. After Yuri tells Doug not to hunt on his land, Doug does so anyway, with his young son in tow. From there, the narrative steadily intensifies into a grudge match whose outcome on is both inevitable and devastating. "Homeschooling" follows the slow descent of Judith and Claire Weber, whose progressive parenting of their adopted children sets tongues wagging. After their neighbors grow concerned that the children are being neglected, the family edges to the brink of tragedy. The intimate and propulsive "Kidnapped" is a macabre tale about the Dent family that gave the town its name. Told in a wry and folksy first person, its tangled plot involves not only kidnapping but blackmail, murder, and a late night heart-to-heart over Double Quarter Pounders. As ever, the reader senses the confidence in Banks's narrative voice. This is a welcome addition to the legacy of a master storyteller. (Mar.)

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Review by Library Journal Review

Banks (The Magic Kingdom), twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, died in 2023. This novel in three linked stories represents some of his last published work. It centers on the residents of Sam Dent, NY, a no-longer-thriving rural town that has become reliant on tourism. In "Nowhere Man," Doug and Debbie Lafleur detest the changes to their community, especially when their temperamental neighbor Yuri Zingerman turns his property (which once belonged to Doug) into a military training center. Love for the land drives Doug's irrational obsession to an unspeakable tragedy. In "Homeschooling," Kenneth and Barbara Odell find their enigmatic neighbors, two married lesbians with four adopted Black children, most unfriendly. The Odells change their live-and-let-live attitude, however, when the Weber children come begging for food, but all helpful efforts fail. In "Kidnapped," Frank Dent, proud descendant of town founder Samuel Dent, is living with his wife and their adult grandson Stevie--a young man with definitely antisocial behavior--when two masked men burst into their house looking for Stevie. VERDICT Banks's stories are about fragile, everyday people whom, despite their resilience and strength, life still manages to break. An imaginatively constructed novel from a late master storyteller.--Donna Bettencourt

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

Three stories unearth the bitterness and violence seething in a working-class American town. These long narratives by the late Banks are all set in the northern New York village of Sam Dent that featured in The Sweet Hereafter (1991). But where that story dealt with a tragedy that affected the whole town, these explore the welter of pain that can afflict a single house. In "Nowhere Man," a feud between neighbors escalates when one of them finds himself threatened on social media. This is a community where guns are commonplace and Banks' choice of victim is pointedly cruel. He also weaves in Trump, the Proud Boys, and home-grown militias, expanding the range of one of his recurring themes, toxic masculinity. "Homeschooling" has a Hallmark-wholesome, Trump-friendly family adjusting to next-door neighbors who comprise white married lesbians and their four adopted Black children. When those kids suggest that all is not well in their household, the adults trade bitter words that lead to an awful outcome. Banks plants doubt about the virtue and veracity on both sides, fostering an ambiguity that challenges any facile finger-pointing. In "Kidnapped," the grandparents of a young man who lost his father to war and his mother to drugs open their door one evening to find two drug thugs looking for human leverage in a deal gone bad. This is a dark tale in which death is dealt out remorselessly, family ties are fatal, and a change of heart or a well-meant deed can turn virtue into complicity. All these stories include ruminations on the passage of time, changes and damage in the landscape, and the values and aspirations sustained from generation to generation. The tone in these passages is almost elegiac: hymns to a past when fewer wounds were self-inflicted. Grim but compelling narratives from this fine writer. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.