Russell Banks’ first new novel in a decade
[ About the Book ]
At the center of Foregone is famed Canadian American leftist documentary filmmaker Leonard Fife, one of sixty thousand draft evaders and deserters who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Vietnam. Fife, now in his late seventies, is dying of cancer in Montreal and has agreed to a final interview in which he is determined to bare all his secrets at last, to demythologize his mythologized life. The interview is filmed by his acolyte and ex-star student, Malcolm MacLeod, in the presence of Fife’s wife and alongside Malcolm’s producer, cinematographer, and sound technician, all of whom have long admired Fife but who must now absorb the meaning of his astonishing, dark confession.
Imaginatively structured around Fife’s secret memories and alternating between the experiences of the characters who are filming his confession, the novel challenges our assumptions and understanding about a significant lost chapter in American history and the nature of memory itself. Russell Banks gives us a daring and resonant work about the scope of one man’s mysterious life, revealed through the fragments of his recovered past.
[ My Review ]
Foregone by Russell Banks is just published today with No Exit Press and is described as a ‘one of his most ambitious works to date, the masterful new novel from two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist’. I am delighted to be bringing you all my review today as part of the blog tour, as well as details of the virtual book launch which takes place this evening at 7.30pm.
I have been processing Foregone over the past few days, trying to capture the essence of the novel and how best to describe it. Foregone takes place over the course of one day in the Montreal home of the terminally ill film/documentary maker Leonard Fife. Now in his dying days he wants to do one final interview where he intends to reveal all his past secrets, moments in his life that he is not particularly proud of. Malcolm MacLeod, an ex-student of Fife, is the man that will conduct the interview in Fife’s living room. Wheelchair bound, and with a carer to look after his medical and personal needs, Fife arrives into the living room where nothing is the way it was. ‘Instead of entering a large high-ceilinged living room with four tall curtained windows, a room comfortably furnished with mid-twentieth-century sofas and chairs and lamps and tables, Fife has entered a black box of unknown dimensions’ This black box will become Fife’s confessional, the place where he will share his memories of a life lived. He insists that his wife Emma be present as it is really to her that he wants to share his words. Emma is not happy that this interview is taking place. She thinks it will take too much out of a man who is already extremely frail and is struggling to remain in the moment. She is cajoled into staying but throughout the interview she constantly intervenes and as the hours pass she attempts on numerous occasions to stop it completely.
MacLeod has a list of prepared questions that highlight Fife’s fascinating career and his draft avoidance during the Vietnam war but Leonard Fife has his own agenda and bypasses MacLeod’s attempts to rein the interview in. As the memories start to unravel, the reader is caught up in an almost dreamlike sequence, never really sure of the reality of Fife’s thoughts. There is confusion about what he believes happened and what actually happened. He is adamant about a past with wives and children that the crew were unaware of. He has stories to tell that are riveting yet did this really happen or is it the meds talking?
‘In seeking redemption for your sins, as Fife claims to be doing, you have to examine your life’s continuum back to the point in time when your ethical base first appeared like a firmament between the firmaments, when what you know about the world and the way you acquired that knowledge became for the first time in your life a consciously willed thing…You have to return to where you first started navigating with a map of your own making, losing your way from time to time, and correcting your course as you go along’
Foregone is a curious read, a meandering trip down memory lane of a man I didn’t particularly like. Leonard Fife is a self-indulgent and very egotistical character looking for redemption and forgiveness now that his days are clearly numbered. This interview is his confession. He knows he is dying and has no interest in what MacLeod does with the footage after his passing. He will be gone. It will not affect him. But, as much as he wishes to clear his head and tell all, he seems to give no regard to Emma who will be there after when the revelations are sewn together and viewed by Fife’s fans and many others.
Reading almost like a stream of consciousness, Foregone is a book that will encourage much debate. The term metafiction has been used to describe it, with Rob Latham of Los Angeles Review of Books stating that “Foregone is, by far, the most cunningly metafictional novel of the author’s career” I can see the cinematic affect that this deep and at times disturbing book would have on an audience were it to make it to the screen. It has an uncomfortable edge that intrigued me and kept me engaged as I tried to decipher fact and fiction. I’m not so sure I was too successful at it and to be honest, I’m not so sure I was meant to be….
[ Bio ]
RUSSELL BANKS has published ten novels, six short story collections, and four poetry collections. His novels Cloudsplitter and Continental Drift were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Two of Banks’s novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (which earned a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ Oscar for James Coburn).
Banks has won numerous awards for his work, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. One of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, Russell Banks was president of the International Parliament of Writers and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.