Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"The Garden of Last Days"

By Andre Dubus III
544 pages
Published June 2008 by Norton, W&W Company Inc.

Synopsis: April's usual babysitter, Jean, has had a panic attack that has landed her in the hospital. April doesn't really know anyone else, so she decides it's best to have her three-year-old daughter close by, watching children's videos in the office while she works.

April works at the Puma Club for Men. And tonight she has an unusual client, a foreigner both remote and too personal, and free with his money. Lots of it, all cash. His name is Bassam. Meanwhile, another man, AJ, has been thrown out of the club for holding hands with his favorite stripper, and he's drunk and angry and lonely.

My Thoughts: "Garden" in the title refers to the fact that this book is set in Florida in the week leading up to 9/11. And that's about as far as that image goes in this novel. Every thing else is gritty and dark, filled with very complex characters who are nearly all deeply flawed. The majority of the story in set in one night and Dubus alternates the narrative between the different characters. And this is where I started to get both frustrated and drawn in. As each character moves to the forefront, Dubus moves the action between that character's current actions and his/her past. Just as I was really starting to connect with a particular character's story, Dubus would move on. Usually this helps to pull me along in a book as I become eager to get to each character's next section. But these were very long sections and the reader is likely to lose momentum. And did I mention that this book is gritty and dark? Very gritty and very dark--as, I guess, you would expect from a story set in a strip club. AJ has abused his wife. The club bouncer has a long history of violence. April is gang banged in a flashback to her early stripping days. You might think that with people like this, it would be hard to feel anything for any of them. But Dubus does so an excellent job of making these people, whose lives have led them down this path, two dimensional.

For another opinion (three actually), check out this review at threeguysonebook:

Be forewarned if you are thinking of listening to this book on CD--it is narrated by a man who struggles with capturing the voice of a female and there are many of them here that he tries to find individual voices for. It does take something away from the story.

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