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The Reserve: A Novel (P.S.) Paperback – February 10, 2009

2.6 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

SignatureReviewed by Scott TurowLike Banks's two most recent novels—Cloudsplitter, a 1998 book about the abolitionist John Brown, and The Darling, about the wages of '60s radicalism—The Reserve looks backward, this time to the 1930s. The reserve of the title is an Adirondack preserve, a membership-only sanctuary where the very rich partake of woodland leisure, hunting, fishing, dining, drinking, utterly remote from the anxiety and want that most Americans experienced in 1936. Jordan Groves, a noted artist and illustrator, makes his life literally and figuratively at the border of the property, along with his wife, Alicia, and two sons, Bear and Wolf. In a note that accompanies the advance reader's copy of the book, Banks says he was drawn back imaginatively to the world of his parents. But this novel is not merely an homage to the class-riven universe of the Depression but also to the way it was portrayed in its own time. Some plot elements nod in the direction of Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night. Much more clearly, the ghost of Ernest Hemingway, who is even an offstage character, treads the pages of The Reserve and leaves his tracks. Banks acknowledges that Jordan Groves is loosely based on the real-life Adirondacks artist, Rockwell Kent, but Groves, as Banks creates him, is a man in the Hemingway mold, whose first name seems to acknowledge Hemingway's quintessential hero, Robert Jordan in For Whom The Bell Tolls. Jordan Groves is a man's man, flying his airplane daringly around the Adirondacks and trekking the world in search of imagery and lovers. As is true of all the characters in this novel—and in Hemingway's—Groves is a person utterly without any sense of irony about himself, and thus any awareness of the degree to which he is a creature of what he claims to despise.Groves's unrecognized conflicts are forced into consciousness through the agency of Vanessa Cole, the twice-divorced adopted daughter of one of the Reserve's member families. Free of her last husband, a European nobleman whom she calls in her own mind Count No-Count, Vanessa is an alluring and determined seductress who sets her sights on Groves in the book's initial chapter. Death, adultery and homicide follow, shattering each of the would-be lovers' families.This is a vividly imagined book. It has the romantic atmosphere of those great 1930s tales in film and prose, and it speeds the reader along from its first pages. In fact, Banks talents are so large—and the novel so fundamentally engaging—that it continued to pull me in even when, in its climactic moments, I could no longer comprehend why the characters were doing what they were doing. By then, the denouement has been determined largely by the literary expectations of a bygone era where character flaws require a tragic end. Despite that, The Reserve is a pleasure well worth savoring. (Feb.)Scott Turow is at work on a sequel to Presumed Innocent.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Though Pulitzer Prizeâ€"winning Russell Banks made his name writing about the down-and-out, blue-collar side of Adirondack society (The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter), The Reserve represents a rare foray into chronicling the lifestyles of the rich and morally depraved. Inspiration for the novel’s many plot twists and turns (and even more twisted characters) reportedly came from sources as varied as the life of flamboyant leftist artist Rockwell Kent to rumors about Ernest Hemingway’s troubled affair with a gorgeous but unstable mistress. Unfortunately, the New York Times expressed a majority opinion when it stated that the many threads of the story just didn’t coalesce, resulting in a mere “potboiler” with “silly and stereotype[d]” charactersâ€"a world away from Banks’s best work.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: P.S.
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061430269
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061430268
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,892,775 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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I've never read Russell Banks before, so I wasn't sure what to expect of THE RESERVE. The dust jacket copy and cover art reeled me in, so I bought it. This is apparently his homage to the American literary giants of yesteryear, notably Hemingway and Fitzgerald, with a distinctly modern point of view. It is certainly well-written, and the soapy plot is lively, and the contrast between the very rich and the working class at the height of the Depression is well-drawn. The two principal male characters are another study in contrasts, and they're interesting men. But the woman at the center of the story, the fabulously beautiful Vanessa Cole...well, much of your enjoyment of THE RESERVE will depend on your tolerance for her, and she is truly irritating, a charmless variation on any number of Hemingway and Fitzgerald characters. Still, the evocation of time and place is vivid, and there's a swoony romanticism to it all that's fun to read. Now I think I'll try some of his other, less derivative works.
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Format: Hardcover
..........that the man who wrote Affliction, The Sweet Hereafter, and Continental Drift also wrote The Reserve. Into the second chapter, I had to double check that there weren't two authors named Russell Banks. The story is just plain odd - the characters have no depth, no nuance and their actions ring false (an understatement.) I was reminded of Fountainhead (I noticed another reviewer mention Ayn Rand, so I am not necessarily losing my mind)only without the philosophical underpinnings. Any.

I, too, skimmed, which I only do when the author has totally failed to engage me, but I want to give some benefit of the doubt without a huge time investment. By the end, I suspected I'd lost absolutely nothing. There is no THERE there.

I have been a Banks fan for twenty years and all I can say is, I am baffled.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Russell Banks' latest novel THE RESERVE, set in the Adirondacks in the second half of the 1930's, opens with a beautiful description of a beautiful woman, Vanessa Cole, the twenty-nine-year-old adopted daughter of a rich New York brain surgeon, Dr. Carter Cole, who is credited with the invention of the lobotomy, and his socialite wife Evelyn. Several times married, a participant in many affairs-- she is rumored to have slept with Ernest Hemingway-- impulsive, selfish, Vanessa seems on the surface to be a spoiled rich girl as her life intertwines with three other central characters. Jordan Groves is a handsome man's man, an artist-- whom I believe Mr. Banks said he may have modeled in part after Rockwell Kent-- also a pilot, with leftist political leanings and a womanizer and adulterer although he only sleeps with women one time and lets them seduce him; hence, he has no guilt. Jordan is married to Alicia, his long-suffering and pretty wife and the mother of his two sons, whom he has insisted on naming after animals he likes, Bear and Wolf. Finally, Hubert St. Germain is a competent, muscular guide for the rich summer vacationers, in his 30's, one of the locals-- he voted for Herbert Hoover-- who lives alone in a cabin, having lost his wife in an accident. These four characters find themselves in a quagmire that they have gotten themselves into by their own actions.

In prose as transparent as the Adirondack lake Jordan Groves sets his biplane down in, Mr. Russell creates a story in the noir tradition that in the hands of a lesser skilled writer would have been a potboiler. The plot has some unexpected twists and turns although some of the things that happen to these characters ultimately are unavoidable.
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Format: Paperback
Wow, is this book a poor introduction to Russell Banks. I've never read anything by him before, though I tried in vain several times to borrow Cloudsplitter from my local library (it was always out on loan.) I had heard that Banks was a master novelist, a major literary figure of our time, in the same pantheon as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Well, if Hemingway had written scripts for Ed Wood and Fitzgerald for Carmen Miranda, I could believe that to be so.

This book is so trite, the dialogue so stilted, and the adjectives at once incredibly numerous and entirely predictable, that the result is a feeling not unlike eating three Big Macs. The main characters are cut from stock: a ca-raaaazy socialite whose mama and papa are filthy rich; a predictably handsome, womanizing, left-leaning, "square-handed and broad-shouldered" artist who flies biplanes for fun; and a backwoodsman who's as honest as he is stupid. Oh, and he's handsome, too, and virile as all get out. If this sounds like the makings of a good novel, then push aside the Harlequin Romances and buy this book. In fact, some readers like a predictable, trite book now and then, and I don't deny I occasionally pick up old books by unknown authors just to see what amused people 100 years ago. If you're looking for the modern equivalent, in literary merit, of Trail of the Lonesome Pine, this might be your book. If, however, you expect more from a writer with the reputation of Banks, skip this.
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Format: Hardcover
I am a huge Russell Banks fan and I am begging you. If you have never read Russell Banks, please, please choose a different book. Try Affliction or The Sweet Hereafter or Continental Drift or Cloudsplitter. This book is an embarrassment. You won't believe any of the pathetically one dimensional characters or the cheesy implausible plot. I suspect Banks is longing for another movie deal because right from the blatantly cinematic first scene, you can tell he's constructing more of a made-for-tv screen play than a serious novel. And the dialogue ... don't get me started. It's like he hired out the dialogue to Jacqueline Suzanne.
But there is potential here. I would love to see him rewrite it as an hilarious satire but alas, satire is not a Banks metier.
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