Thursday, January 21, 2021

Foregone - Russell Banks


“He tries to say, ‘Forgive me,’ but all he can say is, “Forgone.” He feels himself being pulled as if by the crushing force of gravity into a black hole from which not even light can escape.”


In 1968, when Leonard Fife crossed the Canadian border in the early dawn hours, he claimed to be a draft dodger from the U.S. hoping to begin a new life in Canada. Fifty years later, the 78-year-old Fife, now one of the most respected documentarians in Canada, lies on his deathbed, himself the subject of a documentary being filmed for Canadian television. A film crew, including some of his former students, is there to record Fife’s final words and thoughts for the film world and his fans. Fife is happy they are there, but he has something else entirely in mind for what is about to happen.


Even though Leonard Fife accomplished a lot during his lifetime, he is not at all happy with who he is and how he got it all done. Before he goes, he wants to make certain that Emma, his wife, knows exactly who she has been married to for the last few decades. He hopes she will still love him when he’s done talking, but before he dies, Fife is desperate to tell her all the things he has been hiding from her for so long. And so he looks into the camera and begins to tell the uncensored, unvarnished story of his life.


Or is he really?


Russell Banks’s Foregone is a deeply drawn character study, but even that character is not certain if what he is telling the world about himself is really true. Leo does know that he cannot say any of this to his wife’s face; he cannot look her in the eye and get even this close to the truths he wants her to know. So, in a darkened room, with one light shining on his face, he begins at the beginning, hoping to make it to the end of his story before he draws his last breath.


The problem for Leo is that the film crew is not happy with his rambling monologue, his wife can barely stand to be in the room while all this is happening, and the more he fades, the less sure he is that the stories he is telling really happened - and if they did happen, whether or not it was even him they happened to.


Bottom Line: Foregone is one of those books that demand a good bit of patience from the reader. It is a book in which readers are likely to dislike just about every featured character (the exception being Leo’s nurse and - mostly - his wife Emma). It is not filled with a lot of action despite the fact that it is the coming-of-age story of a man who ran from every problem he got himself into, abandoning friends and loved ones all the while. It’s a book about despair and giving up, a book about a man who, at the end of his life, doesn’t seem to like himself very much. All of that said, Leo Fife is a man and a character I will not soon forget. It is not important that I like him or not; I know him now.   3 Stars


Russell Banks

Review Copy provided by Publisher

10 comments:

  1. This book sounds like something that I'm just not in the mood for right now, so reading it would be the kiss of death; however, I loved this line of your review: "It is not important that I like him or not; I know him now." It struck me with truth. Hard.

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    1. It was not an easy book to read, Cathy. In addition to the overall tone of despair and exploitation, Banks is a very subtle writer who allows things to have very gradually in his stories. In this one, you don't learn the truth about all of Leo's stories until near the end, and his style is a "dense" and "packed" one at times here, so the pages can get turned pretty slowly. But I'm a longtime admirer of Russell Banks and this is one I couldn't pass up. I will be curious to see how it does when it's released in April.

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  2. I'm not sure about this one. Like Cathy, I like your last line.

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    1. It's definitely not a feel-good book or one that would cheer anyone up, Jen, especially right now. Thanks for the nice words...to Cathy also...about the end of the review. I added that because I realized all of a sudden just how real, Leo Fife had become to me. I can picture him vividly in my mind...Banks is just a great writer. But I admit, this is a tough one to read in a lot of ways.

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  3. I'm not sure I'd make it through this one even though I really liked Banks' The Sweet Hereafter.

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    1. The Sweet Hereafter was a heartbreaker in a different kind of way. It's tough to identify much with the characters in this one because they are in such a strange situation together.

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  4. Sounds like a book that is best read when we are feeling upbeat, who needs despair and dark clouds together.

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    1. The timing is probably not right for most readers, true. I wonder if 2020 put Banks in the mood for something this somber.

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  5. This actually sounds like something I might be into. I thought "Affliction" was pretty awesome, and can't imagine this one would stray too far from that, tone-wise. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Jason, you are right about this one and Affliction. They do have a similar tone. If you are a fan of Banks's work, you pretty much know what you are getting into when you pick up one of his novels. I hope you "enjoy" this one, if that's the right workd to use here.

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