A Depression-era tale of privilege and poverty
Russell Banks's latest novel explores class structure within a closed Adirondack community.
(Page 2 of 2)
Insecurity and dependency are things with which Jordan seems entirely unfamiliar. Jordan, Banks has written, is based on the artist and wood-cut engraver Rockwell Kent. Kent enjoyed traveling to farflung, freezing places such as Alaska, Greenland, and the Andes. Also, like his contemporaries John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, Kent combined a high-flying lifestyle with socialist politics – and Banks enjoys exploring the tensions and hypocrisies inherent in that stance.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Jordan's conscience is impressively pliable to begin with – despite being married with two small sons, he's a notorious philanderer, who justifies his actions by only sleeping with women with whom he "can't fall in love." These, we are led to understand, tend to be young women of other races (and yes, that grinding sound you hear is my teeth).
Airships appear to have captured the imagination of more than a few of today's novelists, leading a reader to wonder if they're fans of the animation of Hayao Miyazaki (and there are many, many worse ways to spend one's time). The bloated, ominous presence of the Hindenburg floats above "The Reserve," and one of the characters has a ticket to ride the ill-fated zeppelin.
Unfortunately, pages set on the Hindenburg, as well as chapters set during the Spanish Civil War, seem more like extraneous historical passages than an integral part of the novel. And while Banks has immersed himself in the time he's writing about and manages to evoke Hemingway without ever aping his style, "The Reserve" is occasionally dotted by the type of small errors that an editor should have caught. For example, Jordan finds himself "remembering" movies that hadn't been released by the summer of 1936 – "My Man Godfrey" and sequels to "The Thin Man."
Banks is one of the most respected novelists working today and has proved brilliant at both mingling history and fiction – most notably in "Cloudsplitter," which reworked the life of fiery abolitionist John Brown – and adept at handling grief and the most poisonous relationships between parents and children ("The Sweet Hereafter"). His abilities are never in question, but "The Reserve" suffers to too great a degree from its titular quality.
• Yvonne Zipp regularly reviews fiction for the Monitor.