The Feast of Love (Vintage Contemporaries)

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9780307387271: The Feast of Love (Vintage Contemporaries)
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Late one night, a man wakes from a bad dream and decides to take a walk through his neighborhood. After catching sight of two lovers entangled on the football field, he comes upon Bradley Smith, friend and fellow insomniac, and Bradley begins to tell a series of tales--a luminous narrative of love in all it’s complexity.

We meet Kathryn, Bradleys’ first wife, who leaves him for another woman, and Diana, Bradley’s second wife, more suitable as a mistress than a spouse. We meet Chlo? and Oscar, who dream of a life together far different from the sadness they have known. We meet Esther and Harry, whose love for their lost son persists despite his contempt for them. And we follow Bradley on his nearly magical journey to conjugal happiness.

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Review:

Among literary cognoscenti, Charles Baxter has a well-deserved reputation as one of America's finest writers. Best known for his short stories, Baxter has also produced three novels. His fourth, The Feast of Love, combines the best of both genres--with a light dusting of metafiction to sweeten the dish. The book begins with Baxter himself waking from a nightmare and going for a moonlit walk through his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. While sitting on a park bench, he is joined by an acquaintance of 12 years--and, incidentally, one of the main characters in the novel. It is Bradley who gives Baxter the name for the novel he's currently struggling to write, and even offers himself as a character:

You should call it The Feast of Love. I'm the expert on that. I should write that book. Actually, I should be in that book. You should put me into your novel. I'm an expert on love. I've just broken up with my second wife, after all. I'm in an emotional tangle. Maybe I'd shoot myself before the final chapter. Your readers would wonder about the outcome.
But why stop there? Bradley goes on to suggest that he send people to Baxter, "actual people, for a change, like for instance human beings who genuinely exist, and you listen to them for a while. Everybody's got a story, and we'll just start telling you the stories we have"--a sly tip-off to the reader of this elegant, quirky, and wholly engrossing novel that the writer may be no more reliable than his narrators.

What follows is a chronicle of love--the mad kind, the bad kind, and the kind that sustains us when everything else is gone. In addition to Smith, we meet Chloé, a young waitress at Bradley's espresso bar, and her ex-junkie boyfriend, Oscar; Bradley's next door neighbors, Harry Ginsburg, an elderly professor of philosophy, and his wife, Esther; and Kathryn and Diana, Bradley's two ex-wives. The characters take turns narrating, often commenting on and correcting versions of events mentioned by other characters in previous chapters, and occasionally advising Baxter on the progress of his novel: "Don't threaten people, especially lawyers" legal eagle Diana warns "Charlie" shortly before she launches into her own story. "Don't threaten your own characters. It's for your own good. You'll wind up in a mess of litigation and... subplots." But in The Feast of Love, God is in the subplots--Oscar and Chloé's involvement in the porn industry; Esther and Harry's agonized relationship with their mentally ill son; Bradley's travails in love, art, and dog ownership. As the novel progresses, these separate strands gradually merge, and not even an unexpected tragedy can dim the luster of this moonstruck romance. For by the time Baxter brings his tale of love and loss and redemption to a close, his characters have all found their way to the feast--bittersweet though some of the dishes may be. --Alix Wilber

From the Publisher:

"Extraordinary. . . The Feast of Love is as precise, as empathetic, as luminous as any of Baxter's past work. It is also rich, juicy, laugh-out-loud funny and completely engrossing. . . . As loose and supple as life itself."
-- New York Times Book Review

"I had scarcely read twenty pages of Charles Baxter's superb new novel--a near perfect book, as deep as it is broad in its humaneness, comedy and wisdom--when I began to worry I couldn't do it justice in a review. . . . If there is any justice, this new novel will win him the wider fame and readership he deserves."
-- Washington Post Book World

"The best book I've read this year. . . A beautiful, sly, bawdly and wondrous conversation on love, on mistaken pairings and the happiness when they are set aright."
-- Detroit Free Press

"Never have I read a novel and wanted, immediately, to reread it, as I did with The Feast of Love. Emotionally, intellectually, in all the ways that the very best literature attends us, Charles Baxter's brilliant symphony of love, loss, memory, astonishing metaphysical boldness, is a complete sustenance, a perfect invention. The great Japanese writer Akutagawa asked what good is intelligence if you can't discover a 'useful melancholy'? Baxter has discovered that, has elevated the very nature of insomnia to a philosophical disquisition, enriches and dignifies the soul of a reader in many other surprising ways as well. This novel is an irreplaceable gift outright; each character we meet in its pages is a turbulent and remarkable presence. Baxter's passionate writing raises the level of regard for life itself, let alone the art of writing. The Feast of Love deserves all lasting attentions and great praise."
-- Howard Norman, author of The Bird Artist and The Museum Guard

"The Feast of Love is hilarious and at the same time desperately sad, full of wit and poetry and exquisitely observed perceptions of the human condition, erudite and streetwise at once. It conveys the delicacy, the violence, the salvation and the destruction of love. What a brilliant, powerful novel!"
-- Alan Lightman

"Rich, strange, alive with the miracles of daily life, this novel is a banquet for the soul. So many wonderful characters, all of whom I came to cherish: Bradley-the-person and Bradley-the-dog, Oscar and delectable Chloe, Esther and Harry and the great sadness of Aaron, not to mention disturbing Diana and the creepy Bat. Oh, everyone. The pleasures of the sets of characters intersecting; of the initial configurations of love reconfiguring themselves by the end. Truly, this is a novel in which the unexpected is always upon us."
-- Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal

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