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Long for This World: A Novel Paperback – June 9, 2003

20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Dr. Henry Moss, the protagonist of Byers's compassionate, richly detailed debut novel (after an acclaimed short story collection, The Coast of Good Intentions), is a gentle, committed physician who studies a rare syndrome that causes rapid aging and premature death in children. While treating two sons from the same family who are both stricken with the syndrome, Moss discovers the holy grail of the medical profession, a blood mutation that has the potential to arrest the human aging process. On the one hand, the use of his discovery might tangle him in severe ethical dilemmas, and perhaps even cost Moss his license. On the other hand, he could make a lot of money. Byers cleverly sets his tale in late-1990s Seattle, at the height of the dot-com craze; the good doctor, like most everyone around him, is far from oblivious to the immense financial reward his discovery might bring him. With infinite tiny, prosaic and precise brush strokes, Byers depicts not only this riveting dilemma but also Moss's relationship with his family: his wry, critical Austrian wife, Ilse, his clownish, good-hearted 14-year-old son, Darren, and his 17-year-old daughter, Sandra, a talented basketball player who falls in love with a black player on a boys' team. These characterizations are so vivid and convincing that they are nearly hyper-real, as if Byers had set his protagonists under a microscope. Herein lies the book's great strength: while lesser writers would probably allow the compelling plot to dominate the narrative, Byers takes equal time to deliver a sympathetic but unflinching portrait of the American middle class and its discontents, brilliantly capturing the texture of late-20th-century life and the innate decency and fallibility of human beings trying to cope with its challenges.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Altruism allies with greed in this novel set in Seattle, Washington, during the boom days before the technology bubble burst. Henry Moss, a medical researcher, discovers a genetic anomaly that promises a treatment for a rare syndrome and implies a major breakthrough in the study of the aging process. Plots and subplots revolve around Henry's decision to administer an untested enzyme to a dying 14-year-old, hopefully prolonging his life, and to market the genetic information to a biotech company. But, as good as the plotting is--and, despite a few dangling threads and red herrings, it is very good--the well-developed characters and richly described setting distinguish this book and linger in the reader's memory. Henry's wife, Ilse, and his children, Sandra and Darren, are especially well drawn. Byers' short story collection, The Coast of Good Intentions (1998), promised much of what his first novel delivers: solid plotting, lovingly developed characters, and thoughtful exploration of social and cultural issues. Librarians should note that this unusually accomplished first novel will appeal to fans of Richard Russo. Ellen Loughran
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company; 1st edition (June 9, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039589171X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395891711
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,184,113 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Byers' new novel about the discovery of Pluto, Percival's Planet, has been called "a towering achievement" by the Times of London. His first book, The Coast of Good Intentions, was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, won the Sue Kaufman Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and garnered a Whiting Writer's Award. Long for This World won the annual fiction prize from Friends of American Writers and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award. Both were New York Times Notable Books.

Byers' fiction has appeared in Best American Short Stories and Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards; his nonfiction has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Best American Travel Writing, and elsewhere. A former Stegner Fellow at Stanford, he teaches creative writing at the University of Michigan.

Percival's Planet is published by Picador UK as The Unfixed Stars.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 30, 2003
Format: Paperback
It looks like I'm the first person to review this novel, so let me start by saying that I don't know Michael Byers or his publishers, and I have no vested interest in the success of his book. You can trust me, then, when I tell you how much I enjoyed it. I admired Byers's first book, The Coast of Good Intentions, tremendously---perhaps the richest, most tender and humane story collection of the past five years---and I have been wondering for some time when we would see something new from him. Now I see why it's taken so long. Long for This World is a big, delicately rendered book with a deep and expansive sense of its characters and the world they inhabit. It has all the strengths of his story collection. The prose is easy and precise, polished in a way that never calls too much attention to itself, and the people he creates never seem less than authentic. A few of his characters are science fiction readers, and while there are none of the conventional trappings of science fiction in this book, occasionally a mood of fantasy creeps in at the very edges, as though the world is threatening to burst open and become something no one ever could have expected. Michael Byers isn't the sort of writer who can do everything (the momentum of his stories can be very slow, and I'll confess that there are times when my interest in Long for This World seemed to lag behind his own), but what he does do, he does very, very well. That is, he lends careful, sympathetic consideration to the minds of his characters and to every detail and color of what passes through them. His books seem to be written according to the same philosophy that's expressed by one of his characters toward the end of the novel---"not that it was bad luck to waste things, but that anything that existed was too precious to waste." The best thing about Long for This World is that it makes you experience that preciousness for yourself.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
Astounding! This book absolutely blew me away, and is probably one of the best books of the year so far. Byers has a gorgeously simplistic, elegant and, at the same time economical writing style that just sweeps you along. Not only does he manage to recreate such vivid realistic characters, but also develop a story that just commands your attention. What a talent Michael Byers is with an epic, intellectual and beautiful style that is very reminiscent of Michael Cunningham and Julia Glass. So convincing is Byers portrayal of suburban, American middle-class life that you could be mistaken for thinking that Henry, Isla, and their two children, Sandra and Darren are real people. I must confess that although I new what Hickman's disease was, I knew very little about it, so this book was a real education for me. And Byers doesn't swamp us with unnecessary scientific jargon on genetics - he gives us just enough information so that we get the drift of what is going on. The story is just a heartbreaking in its account of what people like William and his family go through in trying to cope with this illness.
Much of the novel takes place in 1999 in Seattle during the boom, and one gets a real sense of the money that people were making during this time. The story also gives us a sense that this excess can't continue forever, and that the bubble must eventually burst. I think this novel works on many, many levels, provoking serious thought about modern American life - its excesses, and America's obsession with money and materialism. The novel also provides a stunning portrayal of the Seattle, which at the time faced an uncertain future with lots of civic change taking place.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Candace Siegle, Greedy Reader on June 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
What a wonderful surprise this book is! Michael Byers shows that he can bring his gift for short-story writing to a novel, and the characters explode deep and fully-developed from the first line and grow from there. The result is a very fine and moving read.
Henry Moss is a research doctor working on Hickman, a condition that causes children to age rapidly and die prematurely. As he tests the DNA of a new patient's family, he discovers that the boy's 17-year-old brother has a blood mutation that might permit him to stop the syndrome's deadly progress. He is faced with the most human of dilemmas when he must decide whether to try the new enzyme on a dying child before testing is even begun. A very kind and decent man, Henry is wracked by the possibilities he faces: he may lose his license, he may save a life, or he may become incredibly rich-a possibility he sees all around him in mid-90's Seattle where the book is set.
Everyone in "Long for this World" is a marvelous creation. Henry's Austrian wife, Ilse, has a story of her own and a martinet mom who has moved to a nearby condo. His daughter is a gifted athlete, and his son a sweet, goofy 14-year-old. You become engrossed in the lives of his favorite Hickman patient and his family, and in the family of the strange atypical-positive teenager who is the catalyst for so much hope.
"Long for this World" will entrance everyone who picks it up because of its humanity, humor, and warmth. This is exemplary fiction not to be missed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
You might not want to read this astounding book in public. It is so funny that you'll burst out laughing, and so sad you'll weep. But mostly, it is a beautiful book, the story of ordinary, good-hearted people trying to do right in a confusing world. Its plot concerns life and death medical matters, but one of its themes is the Secret Life. Each character follows a potent, secret passion that remains hidden from but influences his or her family and public life. But these are not melodramatic secrets: they're the secrets most of us keep, and far from destroying the family that's at the center of this book, these secrets infuse it with new life and vitality. This is a book about mystery, but not just medical mystery: it delves into the mystery of what it means to be alive and how to make sense of the world. Long for this World fills the reader with a sense of hope and transcendence that lingers long after the book's been finished.
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