Book Review | The Feast of Love – Charles Baxter

feastI had high expectations for The Feast of Love but it was, overall, not successful for me.

The book contains several love stories and includes the beginning, middle and end of them all. I found most of the characters to be extremely one-dimensional and trite – especially a girl named Chloe. Supposedly she was in her late teens / early 20s throughout the book but Baxter wrote her like a ditzy, stupid girl who came across much younger. His dialog for her contained many, “like”s and “ummm”s, which did nothing but distract me from the story. The author clearly has not spent much time with the younger generation. An example of the way he has this girl think:

Bradley Smith was going to meet us at city hall to be our witness. We wanted him there because he’s like an official adult, and he’d always been ultra-nice to us.

Baxter also insisted on writing about this girl experimenting with pot, though, once again, it’s clear to me he hasn’t actually smoked pot, nor did he take the time to talk to someone who has.

Funny stuff happens to me when I get stoned. Two years ago, before I met Oscar, in my wild-girl days, I went to a summer party. Here’s how high I got. At that party I saw Jesus, the real one, also in attendance at the party. Not all that many people have that honor. He was glistening. Glistening! I mean, he looked like an average Joe, but you could tell he wasn’t.

Yes, when people get high they start thinking they’re seeing a glistening Jesus. OK then.

The biggest issue for me was the constant changing in point of view. I don’t normally mind this but it was not done effectively at all. There were many chapters where it took pages for me to figure out whose POV the story was being told from. I believe this was the author’s intention – to keep me guessing, but a good writer, like, say, Roth, writes each character with such subtle tones that he always makes it instantly clear to me whose voice I’m reading, even without any identifying information.

I will say that the pacing was good and the story held my attention. I also think most of the individual stories were interesting enough and if it had either been written by a better author, or if Baxter had changed his focus and not tried so hard to be ‘profound’, it would have worked better.

There were tons of italics in this book to convince the reader how they’re supposed to feel about the work. I hate that. Italics should be used sparingly and only when they actually change the emphasis dramatically. Otherwise, you should choose your words carefully enough that you don’t have to go lazing about, showing how the character feels by italicizing their words. An example:

“My dad’s stomach is like the foyer to the rest of him.”

There were a few characters I liked. One was a woman who’d been in love with and carried on an affair with a married man for a number of years. He eventually left his wife and I was moved by the descriptions of his conflicting emotions.

Our first night as an official couple, unclandestine, David felt miserable and relieved and miserable again and somehow relieved again, not knowing at all what he felt when I kissed him wildly. He stayed awake all night in his joy and misery.

I also liked the description of how being loved feels, from the same woman’s point of view:

My legs were prettier than they’d been a month or so before. Smoother and nicer-looking. I don’t know why. They just were. Oh, actually I do know why: he loved them.

There was also a lot of classism that induced plenty of eye rolling. An example:

“One of those working-class locales where they’re all repairing cars in the front yard and otherwise having fights and breaking beer bottles over the nearest head. The houses aren’t painted, and the siding is falling off. They’ll kill you for a nickel and steal anything that isn’t nailed down. What can I say? Folks are enjoying themselves any way they can.

Oh, OK then.

David, the married man who left his wife, had only one chapter from his POV and it was probably the most annoying. Baxter went through and used several analogies to show us how David has a hard time talking about / showing love. It was pretty effective but then he had to ruin it by ending the chapter with:

I can’t talk about love directly. I never have been able to. The only way I can talk about it is by talking about hunting and a visit to the doctor.

Yes, I know. I know this because I just read an entire chapter wherein you talked about hunting and visiting the doctor, and relating them to love. Thanks though. I love feeling that an author thinks I’m too stupid to catch on.

Overall, I would say that though some of the stories were interesting, this book didn’t teach me anything new or pull any real emotion from me.

Currently reading: Telex From Cuba – Rachel Kushner & Runaway – Alice Munro

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