978-0-375-75993-2 / 9780375759932

Carry Me Across the Water: A Novel


Publisher:Random House Trade Paperbacks



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About the book:

A truly gifted short-story writer, Ethan Canin faltered when it came to his second novel, the turgid For Kings and Planets. This time around, though, the author has found an ingenious solution to his problems with the longer form. Carry Me Across the Water is essentially a book of short stories posing as a novel, and here's the surprise--it's pretty effective. The protagonist, August Kleinman, is a wealthy old man looking back on the span of his life. He recalls his early youth in Vienna as the son of a cultured Jewish family; his flight to America in the 1930s with his mother; his war years in the Pacific; his career as the beer king of Pittsburgh; his love for his wife and alienation from his children. This may sound relatively straightforward. Yet Canin shatters this portrait into a series of compelling vignettes, each rearing up unexpectedly and without the crude restraints of chronology.

This format of random flashbacks allows the author to handle a sprawling novel--and a complex life. At the same time, these compartmentalized moments are kept from seeming too small by means of an expansive prose style, which sometimes suggest Mark Helprin in high gear: "Downriver he could see the fierce furnaces throwing blue-black smoke into the air, the crude ore of the land being transformed by human ingenuity into girders and beams that were then floated downstream to ports and train yards and trucking depots, a vast delta of commerce that fanned out from there to all the great hubs of the earth." Throughout, Canin tempers his grandiloquence with a short-story writer's sensitivity to the details of character, and accomplishes exactly what he intended: an involving montage of 20th-century life. --Claire Dederer

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