I realized something the other day. I’m probably not going to be able to read every book that’s ever been written. Shocker, I know.
Hey, I’m the son of two librarians, what other life goal can I possibly have? But until they find a way to embed an entire reading experiences into a zip drive and zap it into my brain, complete with that satisfying feeling that comes with long hours on the couch or the porch, deeply immersed in another world, I probably won’t be reading every book every published in my lifetime. Well, at least I don’t think so.
And that’s why book selection is so important. So, hey, here comes “The Garden of Last Days” by Andre Dubus III. I deeply enjoyed “House of Sand and Fog,” even the movie too. So this has got to be good.
And that’s why I’m writing today, to wave a red flag. Maybe a yellow. I ran into a friend this weekend whose opinions on books I respect and she liked “Garden of Last Days” so there you go. Maybe you won’t find this book a waste of time.
Andre Dubus III has a terrific ability to fuse a reader with a character in “The Garden of Last Days.” You inhabit the skins of his characters. You just don’t have that much interest in spending time with the individuals who populate “The Garden of Last Days.” They aren’t that smart. They operate within the same IQ bandwidth and it’s fairly uninspiring level.
The opening scenes in the Puma Club are long. There’s no need that I can figure out for Bassam’s endless probing of April/Spring’s physical and mental state. Once we know he’s a devout Muslim tempted by female flesh, what else do we need to know? There’s considerable detail about female physical anatomy, and no eroticism with it. Be prepared for a long spell inside the head of a Deena, “who wanted a different body, one that didn’t crave food all day.” She has a deadbeat husband AJ, who feels his own fate is no better than flies drawn to a bug zapper. He pines for the love a stripper and attempts to blame an injury on his employers.
Be prepared for to occasionally be placed in the mind of a three-year-old, Franny, and then to lose her point of view during the most alarming time, when she’s left alone following the sort-by-accident kidnapping. Be prepared for a heart-of-gold (sort of) stripper who means well and wants to do well with her life but brings her daughter to work. We are supposed to empathize with her? The biggest conceit in the whole book is that April/Spring, our heart-of-gold stipper, wouldn’t have called in sick in order to watcher child because she couldn’t risk being fired. So she brings her daughter to work, setting in motion the not-so-worrisome “lost child” section. But we find out near the end of the book that April/Spring has $52,000 in cash in the bank and many prospects to get hired at other clubs. She couldn’t afford to miss one “rotation” at the Puma Club?
I kind of liked Lonnie with his “high tolerance for being alone…He’d return to his music and Maker’s Mark and let the night go where it wants.” Lonnie likes the “joyful noise of a Saturday night band in a dark barroom.” Lonnie plays a small role in the plot and his life’s arc carries a small emotional weight at the end, but even spending time with Lonnie didn’t really add up, didn’t to fit in.
There are long stretches were you lose track of AJ (Deena’s husband), long sections where you lose track of Deena, long sections where you lose track of Bassam, whose struggle with the “sea of unbelief” around him is tedious too.
I stuck with “Garden of Last Days” to see if the long build-up would pay off. I guess I thought there was a chance that Bassam might not be one of the “ones” ready to guide the planes toward doom. I thought perhaps his long struggle with his own faith would perhaps allow him to back away from the attack. Early on Bassam wonders whether there is “any fire more hot the one reserved….for one who loses his way?” I thought perhaps Bassam would choose to go adrift. I was wrong. Alas, I was wrong.