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Affliction Paperback – September 26, 1990

62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

If Russell Banks hadn't become a writer, he thinks he would have wound up stabbed to death in a barroom brawl. He is the son of a two-fisted, drunken New England plumber, and the grief of fatherly combat resonates through his work like the background radiation of the big bang. Banks became a violently drinking plumber himself--and then a Pulitzer Prize-nominated Princeton literary giant and one of the luckiest Oscar-buzzed writers in Hollywood history.

(The Atom Egoyan adaptation of Banks's brilliant novel The Sweet Hereafter perfectly captures its brooding beauty, and Affliction may be Paul Schrader's finest film since he wrote Taxi Driver.)

Affliction transmutes Banks's painful past into fiction. His divorced protagonist, Wade Whitehouse, 41, is imprisoned by fate in Lawford, New Hampshire, a hell frozen over. He digs wells for chump change, lives in a trailer, drinks, and alienates his daughter by dragging her to a miserable Halloween costume party. In two weeks' time, Wade demolishes his pitiable hopes of family happiness, drawn into a rigorously plausible series of disastrous deaths. In flashbacks to his Dad-abused youth, we see how Wade wound up such a Dostoyevskian clown.

Banks has a mind of winter: when Wade sees his dead parent, the scene unfolds with the cold logic of ice-crystal formation. The story is narrated by Wade's kid brother, the family's sole escapee to college, in a cool, distanced way. Both brothers contain aspects of Banks, but each breaks free of autobiography. This is one haunting novel.

From Publishers Weekly

Divorced, inept, confused and stubborn Wade Whitehouse, harrowed by snow and bone-freezing cold for the several days of the novel's duration, is afflicted with a nostalgic, romantic streak. Wade's dream of marrying Margie, a goodhearted waitress, and making a home for his angry daughter Jill, slowly erodes. PW called this a "masterful novel."
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 355 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 26, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060920076
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060920074
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #262,226 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Russell Banks is the author of sixteen works of fiction, many of which depict seismic events in US history, such as the fictionalized journey of John Brown in Cloudsplitter. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes, and two of his novels-The Sweet Hereafter and Affliction-have been made into award-winning films. His forthcoming novel, The Reserve, will be published in early 2008. President of the International Parliament of Writers and former New York State Author, Banks lives in upstate New York.

Customer Reviews

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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Stone Junction on February 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
Film critic Roger Ebert once stated that if someone wanted to understand the psychology of a man driven to abuse his family, they should view Martin Scorsese's RAGING BULL. In that vein, I would like to add the same sentiment to the literary equivilent. If a reader would like a glimpse into the reasonings of a man who abuses those around him, Russell Banks' novel AFFLICTION must be read.
AFFLICTION follows the last few weeks in the life of Wade Whitehouse, a small-town police officer, plow driver, and crossing guard, who mysteriously disappears after an act of brutal violence. As related by his brother Rolfe, Wade is an intelligent, deeply emotional man who has let life lead him to his present position. Instead of the dreams of youth he once possessed, he is now darkly cynical, having been divorced twice from the same woman, with a daughter who is slowly coming to hate his intrusive presence. He does not see himself as cynical, however; He remains deeply hopeful, and cannot bring himself to understand why his plans unerringly end up as tragedy.
As the story progresses, we grow to truly understand Wade's motivations, and we despair that he cannot see the folly of his increasing paranoia. His disturbing upbringing, under a father who increasingly becomes violent himself, lends an air of melancholy to Wade's depression and growing fits of rage. His inadequacy as a father, his impotence as a figure of authority in the community, speeds him ever faster into ruin, yet he remains unwilling to let go of any scrap of salvation he can grab onto. In this case, it is an accidental death that Wade is reluctant to let go as such, regarding it as a holy grail, an avenue towards eventual redemption.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on October 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
Affliction is apparently a somewhat autobiographical novel about Wade Whitehouse, a crude & somewhat brutal son of a truly barbarous father. Wade is now in his forties, lives in the Mountains of Central New Hampshire and works as a well driller, snow plower and town constable. His high school sweetheart wife has left him and taken their daughter. Now Wade is reduced to living alone in a wind swept trailer and drinking way too much. Over the course of the novel, this is apparently a common theme for Banks, he realizes how desolate and desperate his life has become and he begins to lash out at his abusive father, shrewish ex-wife, his tyrannical boss and the towns uppity part time residents, the idle rich in their ski chalets. In particular, he becomes obsessed with regaining custody of his daughter and with proving that a seeming hunting accident was actually murder.
These twin compulsions turn out to be a lever with which Wade can pry open his hemmed in life and assert power for once. But the exercise of power and the awakening of self carry dangers which Wade is ill equipped to confront and tragedy lurks around the corner.
I liked this book much better than I expected to; the movie ads seem to promise merely another domestic abuse fiesta, but that story line is really somewhat peripheral. Wade's struggle to gain some control over his life is nearly heroic and we root for him top succeed. But Banks piles on such melodramatics that we anticipate that he is doomed.
There's also another weakness, and a more significant one. The story is narrated by Wade's brother in such an omniscient manner that it becomes distracting. You continually find yourself saying, how does he know that fact or know how that person felt.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Matthew D. Johnston on December 29, 2002
Format: Paperback
Russell Banks has crafted a strong story about the effects of alcoholism on children. The story follows Wade, a divorced father of a single pre-teen daughter. The mother, however - his high school sweetheart, whom he had married, and divorced, on two separate occasions - has custody and has since moved to another town; Wade only gets to see her once a month, and on Halloween. Wade goes about his life as the local policeman all the while longing for the good old days, and wondering what could have been, and how he can get them back. Eventually, he hatches a scheme, and talks to a lawyer. Slowly, events unfold which shape the future in different ways: a funeral which brings the family together again; the accidental death of a visiting hunter, which Wade thinks is suspicious; a looming marriage which threatens to bring back his old ways; etc. Through everything, the reader is getting a look into Wade's past, the abuse he and his brothers and sister suffered at the hands of their father, and how eerily close Wade seemed to be getting to following in his own father's footsteps.
Affliction is a very strong look at alcoholism and behavioral similarities through generations - the effects which are transmitted from father to son without even realizing it. We do as we have had done to us, not what we wish would have been done to us, or so it seems. The relationship between Wade and his family is clearly defined, and the interactions between them are always revealing, especially when his sister and family comes back for the funeral. The family interaction is some of the best I've read.
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