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America America: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Ethan Canin
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (81 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

In the early 1970s, Corey Sifter, the son of working-class parents, becomes a yard boy on the grand estate of the powerful Metarey family. Soon, through the family’s generosity, he is a student at a private boarding school and an aide to the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president. Before long, Corey finds himself involved with one of the Metarey daughters as well, and he begins to leave behind the world of his upbringing. As the Bonwiller campaign gains momentum, Corey finds himself caught up in a complex web of events in which loyalty, politics, sex, and gratitude conflict with morality, love, and the truth. Ethan Canin’s stunning novel is about America as it was and is, a remarkable exploration of how vanity, greatness, and tragedy combine to change history and fate.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Reviewed by Jerome Charyn: Ethan Canin's new novel is a powerful lament that haunts us like a latter-day ghost of The Great Gatsby. Like Gatsby, it deals with an orgiastic rupture in the American dream. If F. Scott Fitzgerald anatomized the Jazz Age and delivered its own corrupt and luscious poetry, Canin gives us a poisoned lullaby of the Nixon era. Canin's narrator, Corey Sifter, is a kind of Nick Carraway (but with working-class origins), who finds his way into the land of the rich. Corey is 16 in 1971; he lives in a little town in western New York State that used to belong to the Erie and Seneca Indians, but is now ruled by Liam Metarey, a tycoon of Scottish descent whose holdings cover a third of the county. Liam is a very complicated man. Riddled with guilt over his father's rapacious gathering of wealth, he longs, like some benevolent laird, to reverse America's politics of greed. He sets about creating his own president, Henry Bonwiller, a United States senator from New York who is a champion of the working man and wants to get America out of Vietnam. He also "adopts" Corey, the son of a plumber and sidewalk contractor who "always smelled of lime." Corey becomes a caretaker of Liam's grounds and mingles with his dysfunctional family. The Metareys, he tells us, "lived all year on their estate and we lived on land that had once been their horse pastures." Corey soon becomes involved in Bonwiller's presidential campaign. But Bonwiller is a deeply flawed candidate--a megalomaniac, a drunkard and a philanderer. He has a fling with a local beauty pageant queen, JoEllen Charney, who is a younger replica of his wife. And a little before the Iowa caucuses, JoEllen is found dead, "encased in ice in an apple orchard." Bonwiller abandoned her during a car accident, but it's never made clear how she died. The entire novel seems to take place "behind a window of warped black glass." This is the great strength of the writing. The language is often supple, can leap from impressionistic poetry to a coroner's report, and can whiplash through time, from the 1970s to 2006, when Corey has become the publisher of a small independent newspaper and is married to one of Liam's daughters. Like Nick Carraway, Corey isn't always a reliable narrator: we have to trust his own imaginings about JoEllen and the coverup surrounding her death. Yet he too lurks behind that window of black glass. His own intern, Trieste Millbury, a high school student who lives in a trailer, realizes how Corey has fallen into the myth of the Metareys and blinded himself to their own blinding power. But together Trieste and Corey form a marvelous chorus, commenting upon and reliving the splintered action of this splendid novel.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Canin asks important questions about wealth, power, and ambition in his latest novel, but critics' feelings about America America depended largely on their reaction to Canin's narrator, Corey, a passive and inexpressive figure. While the Washington Post declared confidently that "America America is Ethan Canin's best novel," a number of other reviewers opined that Corey's inability to feel (or communicate) any kind of passion about his life's tale was a fatal flaw that left the reader feeling as cold as Corey himself. While many reviewers admired Canin for tackling so ambitious a project, there was also a strong sense that, despite its gorgeous writing, America America does not measure up to the many literary classics--including F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby and Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men--it evokes.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 528 KB
  • Print Length: 484 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 074759872X
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (June 24, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0015DWKCM
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,468 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
81 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And Crown Thy Good July 8, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
It is no accident that the author of this novel is a faculty member of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. America America is interesting in structure and style.

There are three elliptical story lines. All are narrated by Corey Sifter, a native of a small town in Western New York. One ellipse deals with Corey's working class youth in the early 1970s and his gradual absorption as family retainer to the Metareys, the local gentry. The second ellipse concerns Corey's adolescence and young adulthood as he breaks away from his small town roots. The third, set in 2006, involves Corey's adult life as a newspaper publisher resettled in his old hometown, reflecting on events of the past. The points at which these three ellipses intersect form the center of the story: the rise and the mystery surrounding the fall of a hometown politician who aspires to - and nearly does -- capture the 1972 Democratic Party nomination for President.

This structural device gives Corey the freedom to move backward and forward in time and to speak with mixed voices: naïve and trusting teen, battle-scarred political veteran, mentoring journalist. We see his world as it was and as it has become, capturing the many nuances of the transition from twentieth century to the 21st. The triple narrative device, and the resultant shift from one perspective to another, also gives the author the opportunity to color in his portrait of the times one bit at a time, filling in his outlines and illuminating his narrative with unexpected strokes until the whole picture emerges on the page.

So what's the story about? It's about the presidential campaign, passingly. It's about work and ambition. It's about loyalty, to place and to person.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
In a 2005 Washington Monthly essay entitled "Why Americans Can't Write Political Fiction," Christopher Lehmann laments the dearth of enduring works of literature that have as their subject democratic politics --- what he calls "the country's national epic." Robert Penn Warren's classic ALL THE KING'S MEN is likely the first that comes to mind, and for some the short stories and novels (THE CONGRESSMAN WHO LOVED FLAUBERT and ECHO HOUSE among the most noteworthy) of the grossly underappreciated Ward Just may follow close behind, and yet it's hardly a long list. In his latest novel, Ethan Canin takes a grab for this elusive brass ring. And while he doesn't quite attain it, he nonetheless has produced an admirable and appealing work.

Set in the small western New York town of Saline, AMERICA AMERICA weaves together two main threads: the story of Henry Bonwiller, a liberal senator from New York, who pursues the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972, only to be undone by his own arrogance and moral blindness, and the coming of age of Corey Sifter, a local teenager whose circumstance brings him into the orbit of Bonwiller's bright political sun.

Corey, the novel's narrator, is now the middle-aged publisher of the local newspaper viewing the story's principal events from a distance of 35 years, shortly after Bonwiller has died, his political career a distant memory. Corey is the only child of a plumber and homemaker, and in 1971, at age 16, he is hired to work part-time at Aberdeen West, the estate of the Metarey family, whose wealth helped to build the town's economy and whose benevolence now sustains it. Corey's arrival at the estate coincides with Bonwiller's decision to run for president, and the young man becomes a bystander as the campaign unfolds.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars American Machinations June 24, 2008
A novel about politics, small towns, family, and the inner-workings of all those things.

I am reminded of a blend between "All the King's Men" and "Brideshead Revisited". I am also reminded of the present.

The time is the early 1970s. There is a presidential election. People are tired of the U.S.'s presence in Vietnam. On the scene is Henry Bonwiller, a charismatic liberal who becomes a frontman for the democratic nomination. In Bonwiller, we see a political stooge, a mouthpiece of the smarter and purer-of-heart liberal capitalist Liam Metarey, who is Bonwiller's campaign manager. Bonwiller doesn't get the nomination: there is a tragedy, some gross errors of judgment. There are suggestions of the all too common missteps of high profile politicians over the last couple generations. The question is asked: what really happened. Who played what part in the events? Who was changed by events and how?

The message of hope and change during a time of profound societal disenchantment rings eerily familiar during our present election-time. The inner-workings of the political machine; the "right" person at the right time, the ebb and flow of support and media coverage: all of it fickle and haphazard and almost accidental. But inside that complex machinery are good, if imperfect, well-meaning people.

Narrated in first-person by Corey Sifter, now a newspaper publisher, but during Bonwillers presidential run, he was a young man of modest means, employed by the Metarey family, and an unwitting witness to an unfolding of a uniquely American drama.

I enjoyed the characters, the action, the story's momentum. Though it forced me to pay attention, I even liked the chronological shifts, the slow unfolding of the backstory, the stories of the lives of the people, another kind of complex machinery.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for Everyone
I didn't like the "back and forth" in time. Just me. Found it confusing and sort of annoying.
Published 11 months ago by Fredburg Lady
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Canin understands politics and families. Beautifully written. It will stay with you.
Published 23 months ago by J Bensinger
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Political Fiction. Fun read.
I really enjoyed reading this book. It 'revealed' it's layers in perfect doses. I wanted a bigger ending, but the author gave me all the answers to his story in the final pages.
Published on March 28, 2013 by J C M
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read
This is a well-written story of political intrigue; historical fiction within my memory. It is also a coming-of-age story and here is where it is incomplete. Read more
Published on January 21, 2013 by Carl Cole
4.0 out of 5 stars character driven
i liked this book because i'm interested in authors who can tell a good story about people. i also enjoy long family sagas, and can really indulge in a voyeuristic journey into... Read more
Published on January 7, 2013 by S. lane
5.0 out of 5 stars America America by Ethan Canin
Through the use of several interesting characters, this story describes what could happen when politicians and supporters place more importance on being elected than on doing... Read more
Published on December 8, 2012 by Sidney W. Frost
5.0 out of 5 stars Uniquely American?
For a novel entitled, _America, America,_ the author must have believed that the stories his narrator told were uniquely American. Read more
Published on November 25, 2012 by Andrea Broomfield
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, but is it "literature?"
America, America, caught my attention while reading the review of it in Book Notes. Mentioning there was a reference to the Kennedy family caught my attention, and I thought I'd... Read more
Published on November 6, 2012 by J. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read!
I was hooked on this book from the first page. A genuine American novel that intertwines the lives of families of differing socio-economic classes, over decades of living. Read more
Published on September 23, 2012 by John J. Floro
4.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking vision of us
This quirky book presents a thought provoking reprise of the oft-times unbelievable details of recent American political history. Read more
Published on September 22, 2012 by surfreider
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