Title: The Laments
Publisher: Random House, New York
Publication Date: 2004
Binding: Hard Cover
Book Condition: Near Fine
Dust Jacket Condition: Near Fine
Signed: Signed by Author
Edition: First Edition
First edition, stated; first printing, full number line. Inscribed and signed by the author on the title page: "To Patricia, / with best regards! / George Hagen." The author's debut novel. Book is tight, square, and unmarked; corners sharp, tail of spine bumped. The dust jacket is not price-clipped (original price $24.95). Brodart protected. Bookseller Inventory # 003944
Synopsis: Meet the Laments?the affably dysfunctional globetrotting family at the center of George Hagen?s exuberant debut novel.
Howard is an engineer who dreams of irrigating the Sahara and lives by the motto ?Laments move!? His wife Julia is a fiery spirit who must balance her husband?s oddly peripatetic nature with unexpected aspirations of her own. And Will is the ?waif with a paper-thin heart? who is given to Howard and Julia in return for their own child who has been lost in a bizarre maternity ward mishap. As Will makes his way from infancy to manhood in a family that careens from continent to continent, one wonders where the Laments will ever belong.
In Bahrain, Howard takes a job with an oil company and young Will makes his first friend. But in short order he is wrenched off to another land, his mother?s complicated friendship with the American siren Trixie Howitzer causing the family to bolt. In Northern Rhodesia, during its last days as a white colony, the twin enfants terribles Marcus and Julius are born, and Will falls for the gardener?s daughter, a girl so vain that she admires her image in the lid of a biscuit tin. But soon the family?s life is upturned again, thie time by their neighbor Major Buck Quinn, with his suburban tirades against black self-rule. Envisioning a more civilized life on ?the sceptered isle,? the Laments board an ocean liner bound for England. Alas, poor Will is greeted by the tribal ferocity of his schoolmates and a society fixated on the Blitz. No sooner has he succumbed to British pop culture in the guise of mop-top Sally Byrd and her stacks of 45s, than the Laments uproot themselves once again, and it?s off to New Jersey, where life deals crisis and opportunity in equal measure.
Undeniably eccentric, the Laments are also universal. Every family moves on in life. Children grow up, things are left behind; there is always something to lament. Through the Lament?s restlessness, responses to adversity, and especially their unwieldy love for one another, George Hagen gives us a portrait of every family that is funny, tragic, and improbably true.
Review: A novel which is, like George Hagenís The Laments, about a continent-hopping family might seem like yesterdayís news when an international upbringing now seems almost de rigueur amongst writers. Yet this is no self-aggrandising romp round the world. Howard Lamentís grand plans for a better life and career lead his family from colonial Rhodesia to a bigoted, hypocritical 1970s New Jersey, via Bahrainís blinkered ex-pat community and a violent small town in England.
The novel spans the eighteen years from Willís birth and the secret of his adoption by the Laments to his graduation from high school. The first years in Africa provide a solid foundation to the story. It is when Will is a little older, and the family have left the obviously unjust colony that Hagenís skill at peppering the story with culture shocks and mischievous details really enlivens the Lamentsí travels and Willís friendships and loves.
Luckily the reader is kept chuckling, because Hagen takes us unflinchingly into the depression of Howardís spectacularly failed career, his wife Juliaís loneliness and the reality of family poverty. Tragedy never turns to bitterness though, and the charactersí final, tempered hopefulness is a well-earned haven for this long-adrift family.--Stefan Tobler
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