Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A World Away

A World Away by Stewart O'Nan was originally published in 1998. My hardcover copy has 338 pages. The Stewart O'Nan fan club is back in session. A World Away is the story of the Langer family one summer during WWII. Much like O'Nan's Wish You Were Here, this is a painfully honest character study where you are privy to the inner thoughts of members of the family. What is there left to say about such a well crafted, thoughtful, heartbreaking novel? Rating: 5

From Publishers Weekly:
Granta-listed O'Nan ("Snow Angels") fulfills his promise with this affecting and nuanced examination of family alliances tested by infidelity, illness and the pervasive impact of WWII. James Langer, repentant over an affair with one of his high-school students, tries to reconcile himself with his wife, Anne, who responds with silence, fury and a lover of her own. Some rapprochement seems less possible yet all the more necessary as the strain on the marriage increases. As the novel opens, the couple and their tepidly unhappy adolescent son, Jay, have come to the Hamptons to care for James's father, felled by a stroke. Yet the wound that runs deepest is the uncertain fate of their older son, Rennie, a former conscientious objector who became a medic and is now missing in action in the Pacific. The potential for melodrama increases as Rennie's wife, Dorothy, joins the family in the Hamptons after giving birth to their child. Yet O'Nan avoids that pitfall by focusing on the continually shifting tensions and alliances that animate the family: Anne's ambivalence about forgiving her husband; James's anxieties about the damaged family around him; and young Jay's growing confidence as he cares for his ailing grandfather. The narrative's subtle balance falters a bit with Rennie's homecoming; frustratingly, O'Nan holds the returned soldier somewhat aloof from the reader, rigorously keeping the focus on James and Ann. Still, this is a compassionate, acutely observant and deftly understated novel that evokes the longings that tug at one's heart as it unfurls in elegant prose. (PW best book of 1998)
"They drove the night, through the blacked-out city and out along the Island. Fog stole in from the sea, lay heavy over inlets, white wooden bridges. The roads ran empty for miles, starlit, desolate." opening sentences

"As a child, the sea smashing at night woke him, and he cried. His mother stopped in his doorway in her robe, her candle shaking the walls. When she died, they boxed her clothes and shipped them to her sister in Wisconsin, land of black lakes." pg. 6

"It was the war, on the radio like a show, London crackling with static. Anne didn't like Jay to hear. James tried to reason with her but she was always right, always questioning his motives when he had none." pg. 8

"His mother packed her knitting in her basket and started to leave. She did this every Wednesday, blamelessly, it seemed to Jay, as if provoked and holding her temper." pg. 44

"You mustn't trust rumors, his father said, but Jay could tell from the way he listened to the Pacific - then switching off in the middle of the airforce bombing Sicily - that he believed." pg. 45

"True revelation or not, he revered the scene and came to view the letter and accept its effect as fate, destiny. He worked without anger, ate without appetite. The camp, in its isolation, its patient wasting of his fellow CO's energies, began to seem unreal." pg. 59

"They were in the stagnant depths of summer now, the endless mornings and labyrinth afternoons, the gray, fading twilights." pg. 178


Wendy said...

Oh, I just bought this book at a Library Sale!!! So glad it is a good one ... thanks for the review!

Lori L said...

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Wendy.