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American Spirits (2024)

por Russell Banks

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443582,695 (4.38)2
"Three interlocking stories focusing on the residents of a town called Sam Dent, the undercurrent of the Trump movement in America, and a series of local tragedies"--

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The final word we will have from writer Russell Banks is a sobering look at his old stomping grounds, the lackluster fictional rural village of Sam Dent, NY. Three novellas are presented, and one of the three is a familiar story from a different setting. The first is a gun tragedy, featuring a war between a local resident and the wealthy security expert who buys his family land and sets up a training camp for right wing gun nuts. The second is a suicidal tragedy, with two white moms killing themselves and their four adopted Black children by driving into the Ausable River, a prominent tourist attraction that feeds into the Ausable Chasm. The last is a drug tragedy, featuring loving grandparents who are blind to the mental illness of their adopted grandson, whose contact with the birth mother who abandoned him after the death of her husband in Iraq proves disastrous for all. There's a great deal of morbidity and sorrow here, but there's also such vivid writing, especially on local history and on the surrounding forests, that it ends up being a sympathetic narrative that penetrates the layers of this difficult environment. ( )
  froxgirl | May 22, 2024 |
This book is comprised of three dark short stories/novellas written by the late Russell Banks. He passed away in 2023; a loss to American literature. The stories all take place in Sam Dent, a once bustling, now forgotten, decaying town in upstate New York.

My reaction after reading the first story was “Wow…Just wow.” What a great writer. Banks captures well the struggles of people who feel marginalized, the culture that has made a cult hero out of a con man former entertainer and president of the United States and the hate and vitriol that characterizes our current social/political climate as well as the devastating effects of that vitriol.

While the title American Spirits refers to the brand of cigarettes smoked by some of the characters, it of course is a metaphor for so much more. While reading about the sometimes horrors of everyday life may not be for everyone, I think I may have already found my favorite book of 2024.

Thanks to #netgalley and @aaknopf for the ARC. ( )
1 vota vkmarco | Jan 17, 2024 |
Thornton Wilder gave us Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire and Russell Banks gives us Sam Dent, New York. Both communities are small, rural, and isolated. Considering the three stories in Banks’ AMERICAN SPIRITS in the light of Wilder’s OUR TOWN, however, one can’t help but speculate on how the passage of time has warped our vision of America. On one hand, we have stories that focus on the comfortable quotidian, while on the other the stories force us to ponder the darkness that seems to pervade the scene today.

Sam Dent is a community founded on optimistic land speculation following the revolutionary war, but the Banks’ stories seem to suggest that the American experiment may be floundering and clearly facing existential threats.

Hostility leading to tragedy underlies each story. In “Nowhere Man” a man sells a piece of property to a survivalist who has plans to turn it into a training camp for right wing activists. It is not surprising that guns and toxic masculinity ensue with predictable tragic consequences. “Homeschooling” seems to be based on actual events recently reported in the news. A lesbian couple have adopted four at risk African American children. The women’s strangeness and stories told by their children raise the suspicions of the neighbors who intervene resulting in yet another tragedy. The back porch gossip in the Wilder play is now replaced by social media. The final novella (“Kidnapped”) is a dark story with a tangled plot involving drug deals, guns, revenge, kidnapping, and murder. This one is a little less believable than the other two, mainly because the characters seem to be untethered to reality. I think making some of the main characters descendants of the original founders of the village is revealing, however, as it suggests just how far off the rails we may have come.

Banks’ vision of America seems dark and pessimistic, yet his talent for storytelling clearly is on display in all three novellas. Despite their unrelenting darkness, these are suspenseful and compelling stories of 21st century America worthy of the late Russell Banks. ( )
2 vota ozzer | Dec 2, 2023 |
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"Three interlocking stories focusing on the residents of a town called Sam Dent, the undercurrent of the Trump movement in America, and a series of local tragedies"--

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