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The Soul Thief: A Novel Hardcover – February 12, 2008


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375422528
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375422522
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,742,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The author of the National Book Award–nominated The Feast of Love, Baxter returns with this ninth book, an assay into the limits of character, fictional and otherwise. The first half of the novel follows the brief arc of Nathaniel Mason's graduate career in 1970s Buffalo, N.Y., which centers on his friendship with the sexy but self-dramatizing Teresa (which she pronounces Teraysa, as if she were French) and her lover Jerome Coolberg, a virtuoso of cast-off ideas. Coolberg, obsessed with Nathaniel, begins taking his shirts and notebooks, and claiming that episodes from Nathaniel's life happened to him. Coolberg drops a hint that something bad will happen to Jamie, Nathaniel's sometime lover; when it actually comes to pass, Nathaniel's world begins to collapse. In the novel's second half, decades after these events have occurred, Coolberg enters Nathaniel's life again for a final, dramatic confrontation. Baxter has a great, registering eye for the real pleasures and attritions of life, but the book gets hung up on metafictional questions of identity (the major one: who is writing this first-person narrative?). The results cheat readers out of identifying with any of the characters, perhaps intentionally. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Opening in gritty, nineteen-seventies Buffalo, Baxter’s suspenseful fifth novel concerns a mildmannered graduate student, Nathaniel, who falls under the spell of a cerebral but affected outsider, the aptly named Coolberg. Drawn to Coolberg’s sneering persona (and to that of his girlfriend, Theresa, who relishes Coolberg’s performances), Nathaniel begins to unravel when he learns that Coolberg is appropriating his identity: a burglar steals clothes from Nathaniel that Coolberg ends up wearing, and Coolberg begins claiming Nathaniel’s history for his own. Baxter’s talent for creating uncanny settings and telling details and his inventive way with language (a similarly dressed couple are "umbilicaled") are both on display here, but the conceptual twist at the novel’s end feels unequal to the dramatic tension that precedes it.
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Customer Reviews

I just didn't get it or find it believable.
A Sanders
The long-winded description of the Los Angeles airport is evocative, but strangely out of context in a story with such psychological tension.
expat in germany
Not much in the way of suspense, reality or character development.
Cary B. Barad

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 37 people found the following review helpful By S. F Gulvezan on February 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
While I have followed Mr. Baxter's career with considerable interest, I'm sorry to say he has badly missed the mark with this effort. It reads rather like a short story that Mr. Baxter tried to stretch into a novel with unfortunate results. Who is the narrator? Where is the heart, not to mention the soul, of the book? These are the questions that I cannot answer. While the book starts out as a fairly realistic collegiate story, before long it congeals into a sort of miasma of existentialist pretentions. While Mr. Baxter's prose style is, for the most part, good, it is very hard to care about the characters and plot. Without these elements you are not left with much of a novel.
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21 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Charles Baxter is mining new territory in his latest novel THE SOUL THIEF, and while his trademark keen character development ability remains intact, he takes a step further into the realm of spiritual surrealism - and makes it work on every page!

Nathaniel Mason is the character with the 'available soul', a graduate student whose life is operating on a subsistence level, partially due to circumstances beyond his control (loss from his father's death, and his sister's accident that has left her isolated and mute), and partially due to his misjudgment of relationships. He encounters the beautiful Theresa on a rainy Buffalo, NY night, is enchanted by her beauty and her presence, but also conflicted by the fact that she openly admits to being in a relationship with the bizarre Jerome Coolberg, a strange lad whose writing is as bizarre as his interaction with those around him. It is Coolberg who sets about hiring a thief (Ben) to enter Nathaniel's humble apartment to rob him of anything pertinent to Nathaniel's character -clothes, personal items, and anything that will allow Jerome to appear as Nathaniel, including his writings, his ideas, and his style. Oddly, caught in the act of the aborted robbery, Ben and Nathaniel become 'friends' - Ben hangs out at a soup kitchen where Nathaniel cooks and serves the indigent. Also working at the soup kitchen is lesbian artist Jamie with whom Nathaniel forms a somewhat symbiotic relationship and soon the players - Nathaniel, Theresa, Jamie, and Jerome - become involved in the gradual 'theft' of Nathaniel's soul. Nathaniel is not a stable personality and Jerome's very personal 'robbery' drives him into a state of psychological dissolve.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cary B. Barad on January 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a surreal and fantasy-ridden tale that left me cold. Not much in the way of suspense, reality or character development. Can't really recommend it to fiction lovers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Daniel A. Scott on August 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I like the flow of the story and how it tried to be unique and interesting, but in the end it confused me more then anything. Is it telling us we all grow up at some point, become adults and essentially become different people? Is it trying to convey deeper images and feelings meant to enlighten us? Just not sure how to take it. Otherwise not a bad read, it just leaves me hanging, maybe that's better then being spoon-fed what I'm suppose to get out of it.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Sanders on May 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I really had to struggle to finish this book. I just didn't get it or find it believable. I wouldn't even know how to classify it. Science Fiction? Supernatural? I'm not even sure who was telling the story and half way through I just stopped caring. There were just too many metaphors and five dollar words. It seemed like the author was trying too hard to create something really profound. It just didn't work.
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful By S. L. Parker on March 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Deliciously creepy and full of hidden meaning"
-Washington Post (Media Mix)

That's a quote taken from one of the reviews from the Washington Post that's shown here at Amazon. Well, the story was creepy and had so much promise, but what was the hidden meaning, or better yet, who was telling this story and what was up with that ending? In the first part of this book, the characters were developed well, but then fell flat in the second half, leaving me with the feeling "who cares?"

I read this short book twice trying to see if I missed something, and I still couldn't figure out who was telling the story or where all these hidden meanings were. Don't believe the hype like I did. If you really want to read this book, save your money and check it out from the library.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nina Murray on May 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
A fractured narrative is borne out of two men's bizarre relationship. The narrator, who gives himself the name Nathaniel Mason, and Jerome Coolberg, "a whiz-kid sage with a range of affectations", are bound for life in each other's imaginations. With its tenuous grip on the identity of the narrator, events that initially appear real turn out to be dreamed or written about by somebody else. This is the kind of a novel that would thoroughly captivate a freshman intellectual, but is too overwrought to have a lasting impact.
Initially, the story presents itself as a coming-of-age tale in which Nathaniel, through his relationships with two women (Theresa and Jamie, a Catholic lesbian sculptor), must find a way to be honest with himself about his own feelings. Later, however, the narrative fast-forwards to Nathaniel's suburban, unremarkable middle age, and one is tempted to find out exactly how the ambition and imagination of his student years have been erased from his personality.
In the end, no satisfactory resolution can be found. Scenes of little consequence are overburdened with detail while crucial points of the narrative lack scaffolding. The post-modern trickery, thus, appears to be much too self-centered, distracting from the overall effect of the work. However, the book has moments of true grace when it unobtrusively evokes the mood of loneliness and futility that is all too familiar to many young people. When Nathaniel surprises a burglar in his poorly outfitted apartment, the two men discover a disgruntled accidental companionship: they are both lonesome and need someone to complain to.
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