Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Not long ago I ambled over to my neighborhood pop-up library to look for something to read. Usually I don’t find quite the right thing there; too many people use it as a dump for their regretted Danielle Steel books. On this occasion, though, I found a novel I’d never heard of by a writer I’ve always admired — The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter.
How is it that I didn’t catch this one on my radar back in 2000, when it first came out? It was a National Book Award Finalist, and Baxter is one of literary fiction’s forces to be reckoned with. Guess I was out to lunch. But, fortunately, one nice thing about books is that they never really go away. Once published, they’re out there in the cosmos. Serendipity can arrange a rendezvous. All you have to do is be open to anything that comes along.
In this case, I was really glad the cosmos brought this book and me together. I’m not going to review it here, per se, though. I’m just going to gush about it.
A man named “Charles Baxter” can’t sleep. He leaves his wife in bed and goes out on a walk in Ann Arbor, meeting a man named Bradley W. Smith (after having watched a couple making love on the fifty yard line of the University Michigan Stadium) — all this in the middle of the night. Bradley starts talking to him, seems to know him. That’s because Bradley is a central character in Baxter’s novel. The couple on the fifty yard line become characters too. Maybe this is how a novel gets born.
Pretty soon you forget that the subsequent parade of first-person voices are actually speaking to “Charlie.” You get caught up in their stories, all of which involve the urgent matter of love in one form or another. (You come to adore Chloé Barlow most of all, figment of Baxter’s imagination.) And they are all connected, these people — employer/employee, neighbor, first wives, second wives, witnesses. It’s a small community, yet it’s full of depth. Love too. More than enough to go around. And sad stuff, which is always tagging along with love.
Read the book for the stories, and for the style. But if you’re a writer, you’ll be dazzled by the way Baxter looks at his material and compels his characters to open up to him. I can imagine him having started this book in a more traditional mode and hitting the proverbial brick wall somewhere along the way. Yet he wanted to salvage it and bring it to life. How to tackle it? When a book isn’t cooperating — we’ve probably all been in this boat — you have to find a way to trick it into life. You go meta on its ass.
The Feast of Love. Charles Baxter. Lost and found.