*America America by Ethan Canin (2008, paperback)

I was totally engaged in this book of political fiction.  And yet, upon reflection, many aspects of it seem mediocre in terms of the writing, particularly the character development.  Perhaps my engagement was more a result of interest in the time period (early 1970’s) and the political environment (Vietnam, Nixon, pre-Watergate, the campaign of ’72) than the compellingness of the storyline.  The main storyline seems to be that of Senator Henry Bonwiller’s campaign for the Democratic nomination in the /72 campaign, a campaign run by his friend Liam Metaray.  But then again Liam Metaray in many ways is also the main storyline, particularly his relationship with Corey Sifter, the narrator as Liam becomes much like a second father to Corey.  These two plotlines run parallel throughout the novel, which begins when Corey is an adult with grown children but shifts back to his teenage years.  The story then swings back and forth in time as events unfold.  I sort of liked the time shifts, though I sometimes got a bit tired of so many sections ending on a “cliffhanger” only to be picked up several chapters later.  Sort of like the weekly TV dramas when they do a two part series.  I liked the political arena of the novel–the beginnings of a campaign, the strategizing, the role of the newspapers and their reporters.  I don’t know how accurately it reflected how a campaign was run in 1971, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  Perhaps a political junkie would find numerous holes, but to my untrained eye, it was pretty entertaining.  The things that bothered me in the book were these: We are told over and over by Corey and Liam Metaray and others that Henry Bonwiller is a champion of the people, but we never really see this, so it’s not very convincing, which leaves his character a bit more stock than real.  Liam Metaray is well developed, but so good that he seems a bit unreal too.  Also, his devotion to Bonwiller is largely unexplained, and in many ways doesn’t seem to gel with his character, which makes it unconvincing.  Why would he go do so much for this guy? Then there’s the weird plot leap when we find out that Corey marries Clara, Liam Metaray’s daughter–the one he didn’t have a relationship with.  What happened to his relationship with Christian?  It was just dropped and suddenly we find out that this unnamed wife of the narrator is Clara and we never get any explanation for it.  Those are some aspects of character development that bugged me.  But I liked Corey’s parents and I loved Mr. McGowar and I like Corey as narrator.  I”m not sure about Trieste; she seemed sort of thrown in as a way for the narrator to bring us into the present.  But enough bashing.  I still really enjoyed the story, whipping through quite a long book in less than a week.  (political fiction)

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