Reviews of Recent Fiction and Nonfiction
The Feast of Love: A Novelby Charles Baxter
Pantheon, 320 pp., $24
Ooooooh, what a little moonlight can do. Charles Baxter's wonderful new novel, A Feast of Love, is drenched in it. The novel gives alternating chapters to four main characters, allowing each to describe their love stories from beginning to end. Thus, without the security of conventional plot, a reader is pulled inside a compelling universe, one in which anything can happen. Each story is complete, and each sheds light on the others. The fascination is akin to reading on-line diaries of strangers; their lives may be no more exciting than your own, but the voyeurism is eerily compelling nonetheless.
The characters in The Feast of Love are so vibrant, so alive, that they are clamoring to speak for themselves:
Bradley, owner of the coffee shop Jitters, on his two failed marriages: "Every relationship has at least one really good day."
Bradley's next-door neighbor, a retired philosopher, who loves to pontificate while nobody listens: "Both God and love are best described and addressed by means of poetry. Poetry, however, is also stone dead at the present time, like its first cousin, God. Love will very quickly follow, no? Hmmm? Don't you agree?"
Diana, a hard-edged lawyer who frequents the coffee shop: "It seems a shame to say so, but one orgasm is not as good as another."
And my favorite character, Chloe, a teen who works at Jitters whose prize possession is her RAGING HORMONES T-shirt: "When he looked at me, he was sending me a signal that extended into the future and made my teeth rattle. He said he was pierced all over the place. And he told me where he was pierced, including his tongue stud, and also the secret tattoo he had, of the skull, which said 'Die.' I was deeply impressed."
Who could resist hearing the rest of their stories?
Baxter's midnight romp is a wild ride, much like an Errol Morris documentary. I was sorry when it was over, and dazed. In fact, I can't stop thinking about Chloe, whose words of wisdom are still ringing in my ears: "When people are staring off into their neighborhood infinity, before they see me, what are they thinking about? That's what I'm trying to grasp. I think they're stupified, thinking about love, mostly, how they once had it, how they got it, how they lost it, and all the people they loved or didn't love, how they ended up royally hating somebody, like, the weirdness and wetness of it. Bradley says they're thinking about money, but I know they're not. Love comes first."