A few years ago, I read a book called The Feast of Love, by Charles Baxter, for a book club. At the time, we all agreed that the book was neither a feast nor even really about love. It was, in my opinion, mediocre and entirely forgettable. However, I know that Charles Baxter is usually reviewed very positively, and that he is a literary giant in Ann Arbor, MI, where he lives. Someone in Hollywood liked The Feast of Love enough to option it for a movie. So others clearly disagree with my assessment of Charles Baxter.
He has a new book out that was quite favorably reviewed in today’s Washington Post Book World. It’s called The Soul Thief, and it’s about a grad student in the 70s whose identity is slowly stolen by a fellow student. Says the Post:
The Soul Thief is so craftily constructed that to appreciate how liberally Baxter plants creepy hints of what’s to come a reader really should savor this book twice. Not a chore, since Baxter writes cleverly and with the emotional intelligence that has distinguished his best short stories and novels (among them, the acclaimed 2000 novel Feast of Love, which re-imagined — or "stole" — the plot of "Midsummer Night’s Dream")… Throughout The Soul Thief, Baxter riffs eloquently on how people become someone else — either through death or the distortion of memory or trauma or the slow disintegration of aging. Lots of things out there lie in wait to steal our identities, Baxter warns.
I also found this review at Shelfari:
In The Soul Thief, Baxter ups the metaphysical ante once again. There are doubles, dreams, impersonations and a climactic bit of trickery that turns the entire novel into a kind of narrative Möbius strip. Yet after a cryptic preamble, we seem to be on the solid ground of naturalism. The year is 1973. The setting is Buffalo, N.Y., a decaying eyesore that embodies "the noble shabbiness of industrial decline." In short order, we meet grad students Nathaniel Mason and Jerome Coolberg, whose freaky symbiosis is at the heart of the novel…
…We are all soul thieves, in other words. We beg, borrow or steal our lives from others. Coolberg argues that this is a distinctly American trait. "[W]e’ve got disguises on top of disguises," he tells Mason, "we’re the best on earth at what we do, which is illusion. We’re all pretenders." He’s absolutely wrong, of course: It’s a global racket. But can there be a more flagrant offender than the novelist himself? To create a work like this one, with its flaws and scattered sublimities alike — well, it takes a thief.
I want to like this book – it sounds good. But I am still wary of Baxter after The Feast of Love. Any Baxter fans out there who want to stick up for their man?