Thursday, August 7

Soul Thief

Soul Thief, by Charles Baxter

I tremendously enjoyed the beautifully written "Soul Thief," almost to the end. And though I'm unhappy with the ending, Baxter's writing is so enjoyable I recommend "Soul Thief" anyway.

Here is a book with a blank and tender hero, a book of mirrors, doubles, identity theft, of voiceless people finding voice and others silencing themselves. We are introduced to Nathaniel Mason, drifting through grad school in the early 1970s. (Baxter nails his descriptions of the 70's.) Nathaniel meets Theresa on the way to a party, and she introduces him to Jerome Coolberg. Soon he hears his distinctive life history parroted back to him as Jerome's. Then books and clothing begin to disappear from his apartment and migrate to Jerome. The identity violations climax in a final brutal incident.

The second half of the book opens years later. Nathaniel is a contentedly married man with two teenage sons. From out of the blue, he gets a phone call from Coolberg, asking for a meeting.

The ending has a twist I can't reveal, but I was disappointed. I read book reviews, as I did after "Divisadero," to see what others thought. The New York Times reviewer didn't mind, but the Powell's Books reviewer says, "it saddens me to report that the climax is a hackneyed bit of metafictional whimsy, which more or less sinks the novel."

In reading "Divisadero" and again with "Soul Thief," I assumed the fault was mine, that I wasn't a sophisticated enough reader to "get it." I have enough confidence to say "I didn't like this book/ending," but not enough confidence to think that fault is not solely mine. I wonder when that confidence occurs.

Here are the two reviews I read:

New York Times Review

Powell's Books Review-a-Day

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