A good book compels you to keep reading and keep turning pages right up until the very last one. When you close the book, you feel fortunate to have read such a wonderful story. You may also feel a little sad, as well, since a book you enjoyed so much is at an end.
That’s how it usually is for me, at least. However, this was not the case with two recently-released novels. I kept reading and kept the pages turning not because the stories were good but because I hoped they would eventually improve. Alas, they did not.
Publisher’s Weekly gushed over Bill Roorbach’s Life Among Giants.
An exploration of lives touched by greatness and tragedy in equal measure, Roorbach’s latest novel traces towering Princeton graduate and NFL player–cum–restaurateur David “Lizard” Hochmeyer in his attempt to unravel the tangled conspiracy behind his parents’ murder in 1970. When his parents are killed in front of him at a restaurant, David believes the culprits are connected to his neighbor, the elegant ballerina Sylphide, whose rock star husband also died under mysterious circumstances, and with whom David has fallen heedlessly in love. As David trades a career in football for one in food, his sister, Kate, a tennis star with “tough girl” endorsements, slides into paranoia over their parents’ deaths. It is a soapy and thrilling indulgence, a tale of opulence, love triangles, and madness, set against a sumptuous landscape of lust and feasts, a sensory abundance that fails to mitigate the sorrows of David’s youth. This is a purely Gatsbyesque portrayal of celebrity; David and Sylphide inhabit a galaxy of stars, each more blinding and destructive than the next, drawing intrigue and violence into their orbits. Roorbach (Big Bend) has written a mystery free of contemporary cynicism and recalling the glitter and allure of a kind of stardom that has also, in its way, been collateral damage to a greedy financial machine.
Life Among Giants skipped around too much for my tastes and lacked cohesion. Lizard is almost seven feet tall, but he cannot fill the shoes of Jay Gatsby. I was rather disappointed in this novel; I expected more.
A Possible Life sounded amazing!
In Second World War Poland, a young prisoner closes his eyes and pictures going to bat on a sunlit English cricket ground.
Across the yard of a Victorian poorhouse, a man is too ashamed to acknowledge the son he gave away.
In a 19th-century French village, an old servant understands—suddenly and with awe—the meaning of the Bible story her master is reading to her.
On a summer evening in the Catskills in 1971, a skinny girl steps out of a Chevy with a guitar and with a song that will send shivers through her listeners’ skulls.
A few years from now, in Italy, a gifted scientist discovers links between time and the human brain and between her lover’s novel and his life.
Throughout the five masterpieces of fiction that make up A Possible Life, exquisitely drawn and unforgettable characters risk their bodies, hearts and minds in pursuit of the manna of human connection. Between soldier and lover, parent and child, servant and master, and artist and muse, important pleasures and pains are born of love, separations and missed opportunities. These interactions—whether successful or not—also affect the long trajectories of characters’ lives.
Provocative and profound, Sebastian Faulks’s dazzling new novel journeys across continents and centuries not only to entertain with superb old-fashioned storytelling but to show that occasions of understanding between humans are the one thing that defines us—and that those moments, however fluid, are the one thing that endures.
But it’s not a novel; the book is just five short stories. Any one of these vignettes would have made a superb longer novel. The purpose escapes me. There is really nothing tying everything together and the writing feels rushed. I could not help but think Faulks thought he had written the next Cloud Atlas, but he missed the mark.