"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Review #5: The Brothers K, by David James Ducan

Sometimes, you find a book that draws you in so slowly and slyly that you don't realize you're invested until you finish it, and then you can't stop thinking about the characters, and wondering what they're doing now. 

The Brothers K was that book for me. It appeared in my Kindle inbox with a sweet note (as an aside, how awesome is it that you can just send books to people that way?) and some very endearing texts about how loved the book was, and surely I would love it, too. So I embarked on reading it. And I found myself wandering off a bit, putting it down for long periods of time, reading other things (Look Me In The Eye) in between. And honestly, I'm not sure I would have stuck with it except for the aforementioned endearing texts. But I'm very glad I did, because just shy of halfway through, something clicked and I fell in love with it. 

Narrated mainly by Kincaid, the youngest boy in a family of four sons and twin daughters, The Brothers K centers on the Chance family, a ragtag bunch eking out a living in the Pacific Northwest in the 50s and 60s. Papa Chance, a semi-washed up, semi-pro baseball player, is the flawed father of the group, smoking Lucky Strikes, working out his demons in the makeshift ball shed behind the house, and generally just existing. Not living, but existing, waiting for the next day, the next night, in an endless stretch of time. Mama Chance is a Seventh Day Adventist who, owing to her own unfortunate childhood, clings desperately to her beliefs and the church with an increasingly strong and fervored grasp. The four boys struggle with the dichotomy between their parents, each of them choosing very different paths, flinging themselves to the four farthest corners of the earth - India, Vietnam, Canada, and California. The girls are much less fleshed out (one of my only complaints about the story), although there is a heartbreaking scene with them and their grandmother that was so masterfully written I reread it three times.

As with all families, loyalties are won and lost, battles are waged both silently and very publicly, hearts are broken, and things don't always turn out the way they were planned. But the Chance family doesn't back down, and at the end of the day, family is family, no matter how much they may hurt you or drive you insane.

Duncan's style is reminiscent of Richard Russo (who slowly seduced me with Empire Falls) and, to a small degree, he also reminds me of Pat Conroy, although Duncan's daddy issues are much different than Conroy's. (His mama issues, on the other hand, are a different story.) He's a very gifted writer, wandering about, going off topic just enough to make you wonder if he forgot what he was talking about, only to bring it all together again pages and pages later, suddenly making it all make sense. Duncan truly brings the story to life, weaving the stories of this family together in such a way that the reader feels as though they are a guest in the Chance house praying with Mama before supper, or crouched in the bushes watching Papa throw strike after strike, or tucked in to the trees smelling the fear and napalm in Vietnam. 

And the last chapter? Complete and utter perfection.

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