The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter

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The 150-word Review: I once took a humanities course titled, “Ethics and Media,” in which we compared classic literature with modern cultural tropes.  For example, we compared Thomas More’s Utopia with Advertising.  That sort of thing.  Our examination of Plato’s Symposium and Playboy Magazine was particularly compelling.  Socrates’ nuanced treatise on the love/lust dynamic made Heff’s statements on love glaringly one-dimensional.  I wish I had read The Feast of Love at the time.

The Feast of Love is a meditation on the permutations of love and sex in the contemporary world.  Through a series of interrelated first-person narratives, and artfully considered prose, Baxter crafts insights that remain, at once, idiosyncratic and universal.  There’s the hapless in love, Bradley; the cynically cold, Diane; the metaphysically ruined, Harry; and others, each with their own twist on love.  Among these, the spirited Chloe is love’s champion, emerging as the goddess, Eros, reborn with unbridled youthful optimism.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Midwest, pitch-perfect voice, subtle post-modernism, Love and Lust, Sex and Companionship, Yearning and Contentment, Young and Old, Soren Kierkegaard, and dog thievery.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Charles Baxter currently teaches at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers, the oldest low-residency MFA in the United States.

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“You Are Here” by Aaron Burch in Night Train

This is a good one from Night Train called, “You Are Here,” by Aaron Burch.  What’s it about?  I’ll let the first few lines give you a clue:

“Creeping, ducking, peeking-Maria’s birthmark had seemed to always be in motion: coming up out of shirts, under chin and ear, across her face. Seth loved that mark, loved watching it dance across Maria until, overwhelmed, he began fearing it was all he loved. Later, Seth could never fully recall why he’d left her. He spilled a bottle of Merlot on his leg to recreate, to commemorate, and it dried the color of salmon, freshly grilled.”

The Bad Girl by Mario Vargas Llosa

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The 150-word Review: With any obsession the pain is part-and-parcel with the pleasure.  Mario Vargas Llosa’s obsession is with Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, whose inimitable spirit has captured his imagination throughout his literary career.  In The Bad Girl, Vargas Llosa recreates Madame Bovary, bringing her into the late-twentieth century, preserving her defiant independence and the pain of loving her.

Ricardo is a good boy with simple aspirations: to move to Paris and live there forever.  The bad girl is a capricious and charismatic “Chilean” girl, who captivates Ricardo’s desires and quickly vanishes.  When Ricardo achieves his dream, working in Paris as a translator, the bad girl reappears, only to deny ever knowing him and, once again, is indifferent to his love.  Throughout Ricardo’s life, she reappears, again and again, each time under a different guise, but he cannot mistake the fire in her “honey-colored eyes” nor the hopeless passion for her in his heart.

You will enjoy this book if you are a fan of: A Sentimental Education, post-war Paris, swinging London, perverse Yakuza, social chameleons, Holly Golightly, doomed love affairs.

Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Marion Vargas Llosa’s novel, The Feast of the Goat, is based on the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo (the Suaron-like bad man chronicled in the footnotes in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) and takes place in the Dominican Republic.

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