In the Land of the Living
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A dazzling story of fathers, sons, and brothers - bound by love, divided by history
The Auberons are a lovably neurotic, infernally intelligent family who love and hate each other-and themselves-- in equal measure.
Driven both by grief at his young mother's death and war with his distant, abusive immigrant father, patriarch Isidore almost attains the life of his dreams: he works his way through Harvard and then medical school; he marries a beautiful and even-keeled girl; in his father-in-law, he finds the father he always wanted; and he becomes a father himself. He has talent, but he also has rage, and happiness is not meant to be his for very long.
Isidore's sons, Leo and Mack, haunted by the mythic, epic proportions of their father's heroics and the tragic events that marked their early lives, have alternately relied upon and disappointed one another since the day Mack was born. For Leo, who is angry at the world but angrier at himself, the burden of the past shapes his future: sexual awakening, first love, and restless attempts live up to his father's ideals.
Just when Leo reaches a crossroads between potential self-destruction and new freedom, Mack invites him on a road trip from Los Angeles to Cleveland. As the brothers make their way east, and towards understanding, their battles and reconciliations illuminate the power of family to both destroy and empower-and the price and rewards of independence.
Part family saga, part coming-of-age story, In the Land of the Living is a kinetic, fresh, bawdy yet earnest shot to the heart of a novel about coping with death, and figuring out how and why to live.
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
Wonderful Two Generation Coming of Age Story- Half Raw Truths, Half Real Humor
This is a wonderfully written coming of age story-- actually two of them, the father and then the son, shot through with raw truths and real life. Ratner brings to this work the dark gallows humor that was the understated strength of his first novel, The Jump Artist, but adds to the mix a healthy dose of light humor, sometimes charmingly vulgar, that leavens the tragedy at the heart of the story. Few authors have as deft a hand with the tragedy in comedy and comedy in tragedy that Ratner nails throughout the book.
Ratner's unusual ability to give his characters life beyond the page with just a few words or sentences-- and his grounding of the story in specific places and times-- gives the novel an almost tactile sense of real-ness. But the momentum of the story of a tragedy foretold and then survived, and the universality of its themes of coming to terms in a messy way with the messiness of life, gives In the Land of the Living broad appeal because of, not despite, its lack of cheap and easy resolutions.
What has stuck with me most is the book's unflinching honesty and the hard earned sentimentality I feel about characters not always portrayed in a sympathetic light. The people who populate this story are not all one thing or another thing-- they are not caricatures, but humans with their strengths and weaknesses, whether facing life, death, awkward groping kisses, medical school, or clownishly intrusive street performers. You will root for them.
In the land of the living
Fantastic read. Great writing, great story, great literature.