The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III (W. W. Norton & Company, 2008, 544pp.)
A stripper who brings her three-year-old daughter to work; a religious fanatic determined to exact vengeance against a great evil; and a strip club regular who just can’t seem to find a date: what do these people all have in common? Why, they are the central focus of Andre Dubus III’s latest work! Set in the summer weeks before September 11th, a group of seemingly unrelated individuals struggle to find understanding, acceptance, love, etc. in a chaotic and often unfriendly world. While the quality of the writing is top-notch, the numerous subplots that litter this chunky tome are not. Fairly normal situations are propelled into absurdity by the knee-jerk reactions of Very Stupid People. (A man who finds a lost toddler in a parking lot decides to take her home without checking to see if her mother is nearby.) The conflict feels forced, drama expended for the sake of drama. And while the characters’ reactions and impulses are certainly true to character, this itself is hardly a comfort. It only proves that the characters the reader supposed to care about are short-fused, desperate people at the end of their ropes who will do just about anything. Readers, be aware that this book, should you choose to read it, is best taken with a grain of salt. Perhaps two or three, actually.
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