Current Reading: America America, by Ethan Canin
I have always been a fan of Ethan Canin’s short stories. His novels? Not so much. I can’t tell you how many times I have picked up one of his novels and wondered, “Have I read this?” It’s not until I’m 20 to 30 pages in that I remember the book and put it down again, no longer interested. They’re fine novels. They just don’t have that quality that makes a book decide to hang out for a while in your memory. I don’t think I will have the same problem with America America.
Set primarily in 1971, it’s the story of a working-class boy who is taken under the wing of an aristocratic family, which leads to a scholarhsip at a boarding school and a romance with an aristocratic daughter. But, wait, it’s also a political novel, tracking the rise and fall of a Democratic presidential candidate. There’s also a bit of a murder mystery. And that working-class boy is telling this story from 2006, now a father of grown children himself, a newspaperman advising a young intern and caring for his aging father. That this all works together so beautifully is a testament to Canin’s writing abilities.
As a writer, it was interesting to learn that Canin started this novel in 2001. 250 pages in, he abruptly stopped and didn’t write any fiction whatsoever for two years before picking it back up again. And, in my opinion, he delivers some of his best work. Perhaps there’s some hope for all of my own half-finished stories tucked in notebooks, boxes, and computer files…
Up next: Strong Motion, by Jonathan Franzen