G171 Book Review of In the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner
Author: Austin Ratner
Publisher: Little Brown
Type of book: 1950s?-1990s?, relationships, getting closer, traveling, Judaism, father/son relationship, sibling relationship, doctor, college, travel
Year it was published: 2013
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.
I really would have liked more interaction between Laura and Leo and Mack as well as more on the background story of how Laura and Josh got together and more interactions between Josh, Leo and Mack. I honestly have a difficult time in identifying the characters' personalities, aside from the fact they're all neurotic and focus more on small details rather than important ones. Also, they are all Jewish. I also would have liked more history to be included while Isidore was growing up.
Death affects people differently
Its written in third person narrative from Isidore and Leo's points of views. I have to admit that I was shocked by the treatment Isidore has endured. I don't find spankings and this type of abuse to be funny. I also feel that this type of book is suited more for men rather than women, for I had a hard time identifying and understanding Leo as well as Mack and their needs and desires. The book is also divided into three sections; one speaks of Isidore and his life up until his death, the other begins with Leo growing up, and the last is with Leo and Mack trying to become closer. I also feel it ends with sort of a cliffhanger because I'm not entirely certain if Leo and Mack do become good friends.
Austin Ratner’s first novel, The Jump Artist, won the 2011 Rohr Prize in Jewish Literature. His next novel, In the Land of the Living, is forthcoming from Reagan Arthur / Little Brown in 2013.
Before turning to writing he received his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and he is co-author of the textbook Concepts in Medical Physiology. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two sons.
I am sorry that I was not more impressed with the book. There are moments that did impress me such as touching moments when Isidore wrote out in Leo's baby book, or hopeful happily ever after that didn't materialize as one hopes it would. The style reminded me of Zinsky the Obscure by Ilan Mochari, and in reading it, the book forces you to think of why. The reason for three stars then is because I was frustrated with the book. I felt that it skipped major character developments between Isidore's passing away and Leo's growing up. I also felt that the author paid a great deal attention to unimportant small details and for the life of me couldn't remember the major events that were alluded at the end of the book. I wonder why small details were paid attention to; perhaps its sort of a coping skill for Leo? Think of unimportant details and survive, rather than think of major details and fall apart.
This is for TLC Book Tour
3 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)