Thursday, March 31, 2011

Briefly: Russell Banks, Affliction (1989)

Banks, Russell. Affliction. NY: Harper & Row, 1989

In Russell Banks's Affliction, small town New Hampshire police officer and local well digger Wade Whitehouse is having a crummy week. A crummy week following a crummy life. Overall a powerful novel, with some great characters, dialogue and absolutely fine writing.

Then why did it take me three weeks to finish this novel?

Told through the point of view of Wade's youngest brother Rolfe, who has pieced the events together in so horribly an obsessive manner that he can imagine what Wade was eating, thinking and feeling throughout these tragic events. Rolfe's obsession came about as a result of wanting to understand the horrible tragedy that Wade's life had become, and to come to terms with those final hours leading to horrible acts of violence. An ingenuous method and wholly believable, yet what slows down the narrative is the vast amount of detail, often repetitive, that I felt were not only needless, but intrusive.

Reading through these details I found myself skimming, my thoughts drifting off, wondering why the narrator is so desperate to pound certain points across, as well as certain minor details. The more he pounded, the less I was inclined to buy into his theories, as though we were kids in the schoolyard and he wanted so badly for me to believe his incredibly tall tale that to help convince me he was being insistent, nodding his head aggressively and staring at me as though daring me to disbelieve. Yet because I trusted him at the beginning, this insistence was simply annoying, and I wanted to tell him to just get on with bloody story already. How exhausting, to the point that I was longing for the schoolyard bell to ring and quiet the little bugger.

And yet it is a powerful novel with some great moments. In all honesty, my rant was exaggerated for effect; annoyed is a strong word and I will certainly hunt me down some more writing by Mr. Banks.

I might even check out the movie.

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