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Waveland Hardcover – April 7, 2009

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From Publishers Weekly

In his first novel since PEN/Faulkner finalist Elroy Nights, Barthelme offers a strangely detached exploration of the post-Katrina Mississippi Gulf Coast. One year after the hurricane and a divorce, Vaughn Williams has more or less recovered from the shock of both. Renting a room from a younger woman who was widowed under mysterious circumstances, Vaughn slides into a low-key romance with his landlady. Their cordial yet detached friendship with Vaughn's ex-wife, Gail, is put to the test when Gail asks Vaughn and his girlfriend, Greta, to move in with her after she's assaulted by her new boyfriend. The change of scenery does little to simplify Vaughn's love life, and his strange new role stirs up his guilt surrounding the death of his father and estrangement from his brother. Oddly, though, Vaughn never seems overly concerned about the developments around him; Gail's new beau never emerges as a threat; and Greta does not seem bothered by the living arrangement. There are some beautifully written passages, but Barthelme's reluctance to break his characters' cozy familiarity makes it difficult for readers to engage with Vaughn's apparent struggles. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

In his newest novel of dysfunction and love along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Barthelme, as he did so incisively in Elroy Nights (2003), dissects middle-age malaise. His characters often seem shipwrecked, and in this off-kilter story of death and divorce, they pretty much are after Katrina transforms the modest beachfront town of Waveland into “ten miles of debris.” Barthelme offers stunning descriptions of the hurricane and its aftermath as he tracks unmoored Vaughn, an architect who has lost his passion for buildings and romance after his reliably unpredictable wife ends their marriage. Brooding, funny, and oddly passive, Vaughn has wandered into a companionable relationship with Greta, the prime suspect in her husband’s murder, and a skittish friendship with hair-trigger Eddie, who lost a hand in the first Gulf War. Meanwhile, Vaughn’s widower father endures a cruelly limited existence. In this powerfully atmospheric story of loneliness and risk, Barthelme slyly conceals emotional and philosophical intensity beneath the peculiarity of circumstance, the dazzle of hilarious repartee, and the luster of gorgeous prose. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385527292
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385527293
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #949,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Frederick Barthelme was a founding member, with Mayo Thompson, of the ongoing art/psychedelic rock band Red Krayola, and a painter and conceptual artist in Houston and New York in the late 1960s. His work in that area appears in many of the seminal publications of the movement including Lucy Lippard's The Dematerialization of the Art Object, Donald Karshan's exhibition catalog Conceptual Art and Conceptual Aspects, several of Seth Siegelaub's projects, and other books and monographs on the movement. In the mid-seventies he studied fiction with John Barth at The Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, from which he received his Master of Arts degree. From 1977-2010 he taught fiction writing and directed the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. He won numerous awards including individual grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and diverse grants and awards as editor of Mississippi Review, the literary magazine he edited in print 1977-2010, and for the independent electronic magazine Mississippi Review Online which he founded and edited 1995-2010. He is author of sixteen books of fiction and nonfiction including Moon Deluxe, Second Marriage, Tracer, Two Against One, Natural Selection, The Brothers, Painted Desert, Bob the Gambler, Elroy Nights, and Waveland. He provided texts for Susan Lipper's 1999 book of photographs, Trip, and is an occasional contributor to The New Yorker. He has published fiction and nonfiction in GQ, Fiction, Kansas Quarterly, Epoch, Ploughshares, Playboy, Esquire, TriQuarterly, North American Review, The New York Times, Frank, The Southern Review, the Boston Globe Magazine, and elsewhere. His work has been translated into nine languages. His memoir, Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss, was co-authored with his brother Steven, and was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. The same honor was awarded his retrospective collection of stories, The Law of Averages, published by Counterpoint in November 2000. His novel Elroy Nights, published in October 2003 by Counterpoint, was also a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and was one of five finalists for the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award. In 2009 he published Waveland, a novel set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast a year after Katrina. In 2010 he won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Fiction, and is presently editor and publisher of the online literary publication Blip Magazine and is at work on new writing projects including a new novel for Little, Brown.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Wilhelmina on April 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
There are a couple of previously-mentioned statements to which I feel the need to respond.

One review below mentions that the setting of post-hurricane Katrina is insignificant. I believe the opposite is true, and that the setting is highly significant (not in terms of "meaning too much" but in terms of just being important), seeing as how these characters have already blown up their own lives. The Mississippi Coast, then serves as a perfect place for them to rebuild, both literally and figuratively.

I am unsure how characters can be both too ordinary and too quirky, but I found these characters to be neither. They were interesting, and weird, yes, but thank goodness for that.

Another review says it is "painful" to hear the characters "prattling on" about Ipods and TV like "disaffected young adults." That reviewer seems to be saying to the characters, "Get back into the ricking chair where you belong, old fogies!" More importantly, the characters "prattle on" about a great deal more than Ipods and TV. They prattle about their pasts, about aging, about their families, about love (most of all), about the world around them and where it was and where it's going and where they fit and mostly don't fit. In other words, they prattle on about things much more universal than electronic fads.

Rick Barthelme's writing is spot-on, as usual, and his eye for detail is razor-sharp. WAVELAND made this reader's heart ache for the characters, it made my heart soar during the moments when they brushed away enough weeds to find a glimmer of something lovely here and there, and it made me laugh out loud. Those are my "big three" requirement for a piece of fiction, and WAVELAND delivers.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mark Nadja on April 10, 2009
Format: Hardcover
--Sort of. It's not for me to recommend that you actually buy this book since I got a copy absolutely free. What are they charging for this thing? Twenty, twenty-five bucks? There are very few books worth that much money in my opinion and this isn't one of them--at least I'd never have paid that much for it. That's not to say it's a bad book, it isn't; it's actually a good book, a book well worth reading, interesting, absorbing, original, and, in its own peculiar way, heartfelt. I just don't think its worth more than say five dollars.

Vaughn is a guy of nearly fifty. He's living in a post-Katrina coastal town with a somewhat rough-around-the-edges gal named Greta, who was once a suspect in the murder of her abusive ne'er-do-well husband. They have a housemate, Eddie, a one-armed Gulf War veteran who's a bit on the edgy crackpot side. Vaughn used to be an architect; now he's not much of anything. Since his divorce, he's been drifting through middle age into oblivion. His flaky ex-wife gets herself into some trouble and asks Vaughn to move back in with her until she gets herself straightened out. He can bring along Greta and even Eddie. That gives you some idea of how flaky she is. That Vaughn, Greta, and Eddie accept this absurd offer gives you some idea of the sort of quirky, eccentric, never-to-be met-in-real-life characters they are, too.

Anyway, this damaged and dysfunctional "family" attempt to come to peace with themselves, each other, the world, and the whole big messy enchilada of life. It's all a bit preposterous in a Seinfeldian way but this is fiction, after all, and, like most things, if you don't look at it too closely and pick everything apart, it makes sense in an exaggerated way.

Barthelme has a distinctive style--rather stark, staccato, elliptical.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Rae A. Francoeur on July 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Important things happen in this short novel about a middle-aged architect living on the ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina. The confounding shambles, the absence of resources and the gathering cluster of lost souls pries loose the desperate grip on life as it's known. Letting go, in this case forced by circumstance, can be more than a mind-boggling free fall. It can land you somewhere new and better, once you find your bearings.

Vaughn Williams and his new girlfriend Greta live in a neighborhood that's been leveled. Their house survives the storm as does the house Vaughn's ex-wife Gail occupies. Little else in Vaughn's life has definition, however. His wife asks him to leave but later wants him to move back. He likes his girlfriend but feels love is an emotion he's moved beyond at his age. He watches television and expects little. He and Greta live with Eddie, a wise but lost soul, who is supposed to live in the garage but spends most of the time in the main house. They all exist like so much else post-Katrina, in a state of suspended animation.

Despite Vaughn's vocation, he's no longer compelled to create, which would seem the natural thing when living in a neighborhood of downed houses. But the desertion is profound. Everything contributes to a dull and uninteresting hollowness that presents certain challenges to the reader. Persist, if you can.

Most of the book is taken up with the struggles of the aimless. At Thanksgiving, Vaughn summarizes, a bit too well, the feeling: "When you're a person of a certain age everything changes and the world ... which used to be attractive, possibly charming at times, turns out to be a sewage hole of immense proportion, unimaginable proportion, overrun with dimwits.
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