Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Garden of Last Days

by Andre Dubus III

I'm about 40% of the way through this novel at the moment. Do you remember that sequence in Boogie Nights where everybody's lives have turned toxic and now things are going horribly wrong for them? It's a sequence that goes on for about 15 minutes, intercutting (if I remember correctly) between Mark Wahlberg, Heather Graham, and Don Cheadle - all of it scored with this slowly tolling bell, ringing over and over again.

The sense of doom is near unbearable. (*)

* In a film filled with great cinematic moments, this sequence is the one I find the strongest due to its ability to create and sustain that single emotion.

The Garden of Last Days has created and now sustained that sense of doom for 191 pages. I've had to stop reading halfway through a chapter because a character I at first thought was despicable (and have now come to feel sympathy for) is just about to accidentally do something that will get him into so much trouble with so many characters ...

In fact, that's the reason I've stopped reading. I feel that the book is just about to change up: from a sense of doom, to the situation exploding. Not only am I nervous about finding out what happens, I'm also nervous about the dynamics of the book (which I've been enjoying immensely) changing so dramatically.

Brief summary: The Garden of Last Days, so far, has taken place entirely over one night at a strip club in Miami. It rhythmically switches between characters at the club - including an elderly widow prone to panic attacks, and a three year old girl - slowly building up a sense of character identification and momentum. The overall impression is of a book about people whose lives are in the process of not turning out well, and the story seems to be in the process of turning from a drama into a thriller. (**)

** Ian McEwan meets Carl Hiassen, I guess.

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