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The Life I Lead Hardcover – May 18, 1999


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New Adult Fiction by Rainbow Rowell
Acclaimed author Rainbow Rowell's latest book, Landline, offers a poignant, humorous look at relationships and marriage. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (May 18, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375403760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375403767
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,517,658 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Keith Banner is a refreshingly idiosyncratic writer; his prose is swift and unencumbered; it pulls the reader in like strange music. The Life I Lead is Banner's debut novel; it's the story of David Brewer, a pedophile who is trying to be a normal guy, but who cannot keep away from the swimming pool where the beautiful young boys congregate. He thinks he is in love with one particular boy, Nathan, and he pursues him, offers him ice cream, and takes him to the Motel 6. Dave is a churchgoing family man--he believes God is out there--but he cannot help thinking that God will forgive him, because his desire feels so unmistakable and true, like a blessing or a form of destiny.

The novel's momentum comes from Dave's struggle with temptation. He dreams of succumbing to his love of boys, but he is so afraid of his desires he needs to drink screwdrivers in his car at lunchtime. In church one night, they show an antigay video with images of National Association of Man-Boy Love members in a parade. Dave imagines himself at home among those men: "Marching down the street in Anderson, Indiana, me some naked freak smiling like a crocodile, whooping it up, holding a boy's hand.... and yet I knew it was all over and we were, all of us, being marched off to wherever freaks like us are made to go." After the film, church members discuss the perverts in outraged voices, and Dave sits among them, nodding in agreement. He acts the part of the moral man but he knows it is a bluff. He is an interloper in the acceptable world.

The Life I Lead is burdened by a glaring point-of-view problem. Although it is clearly Dave's story, Banner shifts between narrators. Each chapter belongs to a different character, but the voice itself changes very little. The novel's murmuring poetry remains hypnotically constant, and as a result the reader comes away with the odd impression that Dave's perspective is universal. One wonders why Banner would so deliberately break down the barriers between characters in a novel about disconnection and isolation; why he would undermine the narrative of loneliness with the illusion of a common language. --Emily White

From Publishers Weekly

Small-town America, or at least Anderson, Ind., comes across as a hotbed of ignorant fundamentalism and pedophilia in Banner's intense but unconvincing first novel. The protagonist, David Brewer, is a meter reader, a job that allows him time to agonize over his predilection for little boys, and then to act on his predatory fantasies. Lately, he is obsessed with seven-year-old Nathan Marcum. Dave is all the scarier for perfecting his disguise as a mild-mannered, churchgoing family man. He's married to Tara, and has an infant daughter, Brittany. No one knows that in 1972, when Dave himself was six, he was molested by his teenage babysitter, Troy Wetzel; it is a ritual Dave is now helplessly repeating. In an implausible twist, Dave thinks about confessing his behavior to Reverend Lewis, the pastor of his fundamentalist church, but Lewis is predictably and violently homophobic. Dave starts to break down when his father, whose physical abuse created constant fear during Dave's childhood, is taken to a nursing facility after an operation for cancer. Coincidentally, Troy is now working in the nursing home. David's inability to cope with this emotional overload leads to his final, desperate assault on Nathan. Elements of Banner's story are searingly honest, especially David's frequent internal monologues documenting his struggle to avoid becoming the very monster who victimized him. But the many small-town, small-minded characters are flat, and burdened with inconsistent and stereotypical "hick" voices. David and Troy, however, both speak in a strange combination of unlikely self-awareness and dramatized, pokey ignorance; neither of these styles, meant to express the denial/awareness split in the pedophiles' psyches, ease the novel out from its tortured center.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Patty Grossman on February 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Was it Flannery O'Conner who said "nothing human is alien to me?" In seeking to demystify (yet not forgive) pedophilia, Banner beautifully fulfills this most challenging of the fiction writer's credo. It took no small about of courage to write this novel. I applaud the writer and the publisher and find myself perhaps a bit sadder but also richer for having read Keith Banner's dramatic exploration.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Unlike most other novels about down-n-out types, Keith Banner's The Life I Lead does not rely on gritty, hard-edged prose to brag about its working class depictions. The prose is simple, with an everyday modesty, and yet the cumulative effect is a stunning poetry. I'm already reading this book a second time to try to figure out how Banner creates such sympathetic characters with such few words, and without pulling any punches about their weaknesses. The reader aches in sympathy for the pedophilic main character. It's easy to create reader outrage (A.M. Homes, B.E. Ellis, for example). Trying NOT to shock or outrage might be this novel's biggest accomplisment. In some ways, in its unwavering insight but lack of mockery, the novel reminds me of Robert Duvall's similar accomplishment in The Apostle.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Switching back and forth between 1998 and 1972, and between multiple points of view, Keith Banner constructs a quest for salvation through love that is utterly original. The plot twists, flashbacks, and variations on the themes of love, memory, guilt, and redemption are tours de force. But the characters are what burrow into your brain--Indiana trailer trash who are fully human, and whose perversions induce sympathy, not revulsion. Who'd a thunk this could be done to such a tee, especially with langauge that is unassuming but poetic at the same time? Bravo, Banner!
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By W. Broun on April 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I do not know if Mr Banner's novel will eventually emerge as one of the finest works of fiction in the late 20th century. But it should. Its delights are in its details: no writer I know wields such an incredibly perceptive eye over American culture; Mr Banner shows an extraordinary, almost scary knowledge of all the wonderful and sad little things that make up the average American's everyday life. The Life I Lead is a great painting that's never been painted; a perfect film that's never been shot; a poem not yet set down. It captures so much that has yet to be properly articulated in American art, I can only hope that it someday receives the recognition it deserves.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 17, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Uncompromising, powerful, humane. (And surprisingly funny too!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Keith Banner has done an enviable job with his debut novel. Written in staccato thoughts of Dave Brewer, one experiences this man's own undoing. If you are looking for an unusual and thoroughly engaging read, The Life I Lead is a godsend. After reading this novel, it was easy to understand why the Kenyon Review chose Banner as one of the nation's emerging new writers.
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