Book Club: America America by Ethan Canin

August 6, 2009

america-america_lIt’s time to discuss last month’s book club book, America America by Ethan Canin. Which means that it’s time for me to write my first coherent book review. I am daunted by this task, but I will attempt it.

Let’s start with a basic summary for those of you who haven’t yet read it. America America is the story of Corey Sifter, a teenage boy growing up in smallish town in upstate New York in the early 1970’s. Corey somehow finds himself working as a yard boy for the wealthy, powerful, and beneficent Metarey family, the family that founded the town and made it what it was. The Metareys take him under their wing, and before long he finds himself working on the campaign for Henry Bonwiller, a senator in the running for the Democratic nomination for president. Corey becomes involved with the Metarey daughters as well, and his experiences at this time of his life, during which he is involved in events that are publicized across the nation, end up shaping his entire future.

Whew. It’s hard to summarize a 460 page book in just a paragraph. Glad that part’s out of the way. Now comes the part where I talk to you about what I thought of the book, the part where I will probably end up rambling, and yes, there will be spoilers.

The first thing that came to my mind when I started reading this book was how much it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. They are both written from a male point of view, both are set in multiple time periods in New England, and both involve politics to some extent. I personally think the writing style in both books is similar, and in both I found myself studying every detail wondering if it would be important later. And what I love about this is that no words are wasted; everything means something.

There are so many great themes in America America: truth, the greater good, the struggle of the working class, the relationships of parents and their children, and American politics to name a few. But Canin doesn’t hit you over the head with what he wants to say; he subtly illustrates his points perfectly through stories, and he avoids overt partisanship in a highly political book. He has a way of saying things that provides new insight into ideas or thoughts that I have felt on some level but haven’t been able to articulate.

I really liked this book. I actually would like to read it again at some point (which is saying a LOT for me because I hardly ever re-read) because I know there’s a lot that I missed. I loved the way that it was written in different time periods, so that I learned about Corey’s life on the Metarey estate, his life at college, and his life as a grown man all at once. It made me anticipate what was coming next. I always felt that there was something just beyond my reach, and I just had to keep reading to find out what it was.

I don’t feel like answering any of the truly “literary” questions that I found, because it makes me feel like I’m in school again. So here are some simple questions I came up with that I’d love to know your answers to if you’ve read the book.

1. Who was your favorite character?

Almost all of the characters were likable and relatable, to some extent, which I appreciated. Corey himself was an honest, hardworking, and humble person who made a great narrator. But in my opinion the whole story really hangs around Liam Metarey, and he was my favorite character. I’m pretty sure that was what Canin was going for, and if so I totally fell for it. Simply stated, I felt like I could trust him with my life. That I could count on him for anything. He got himself involved in this questionable political campaign, but he was doing it because of his ideals and what he truly believed in and lived out. I was shocked at his tragic accident and almost didn’t want to finish the book afterwards because I felt a loss of hope.

2. What do you wish Canin would have written more about?

I’m a total girl, because I really wanted to read more about Corey and Clara’s relationship and how they ended up married. I also wish we could have learned exactly what happened to JoEllen Charney, but I know that the point was that we can’t always know the truth, and that what people consider the “truth” ends up changing over time.

3. What do you rate the book and why?

I give it 4 out of 5 stars. It was a little slow to begin with, but the history of Saline is definitely important later on. Otherwise excellent.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Hopefully someone out there who has actually read the book appreciates this review. If you have, please comment below and join in the discussion!

Now the big question that I’m sure you’re dying to know the answer to: what are we reading next month? Well, like everyone else in America, apparently, we are going to be reading The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Of course we want to read it before watching the movie like the true book lovers we are. We’ll be meeting on AUGUST 30 to discuss the book and watch the movie together, so you can expect a review sometime the first week of September.

Who’s in??

Posted in: books & reading, book reviews, books & reading

Comments on Book Club: America America by Ethan Canin

  1. 1

    From Scott:

    I’ve just skipped to the comments and haven’t read your post yet because I still have about 150 pages to go. It’s great so far!

  2. 2

    From Tabaitha Kaye:

    I’m about to start reading The Time Traveler’s Wife and can’t wait. I’ve heard from Jeanna that is one of her favorite books ever. I don’t know if I will make it to see it in theaters, but look forward to watching it whenever it comes out on dvd (the life of a mom of two young kids).

  3. 3

    From Scott:

    Okay, so if anyone wants to read even more of what I thought about this book, you can go here:

    But I would like to respond to Kathleen’s comments above:

    I would say my favorite character is Corey. However, I would argue that in some ways that means that we have the same favorite character since Corey himself says that he and Liam are very similar (or he at least likes to think that they are) and that in many ways that is why Clara fell in love with him.

    As for who I would like to hear more about? That would have to be Astor (the roommate from Dunleavy). His consideration and generosity in that short time we read about him was really touching, and I think it would have been a great character to learn more about (and a great friend to have).

    It was a really great book, and I think the Owen Meany comparison is completely valid.

    As for next month, I probably won’t be reading the Time Traveler’s Wife unless you absolutely insist that it is great.

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