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In the Land of the Living: A Novel Hardcover – March 12, 2013
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The pursuit of happiness in America has moved from being just an aspiration to a founding mythology. In Ratner’s novel, mythology is often a compelling but shackling inheritance. The narrative spans generations but focuses on Leo, the son of Isidore, whose success has taken on mythological proportions, and who was the son of the equally mythological Ezer, a Jewish immigrant, absusive father, and professional curmudgeon. Leo, like the men before him, lives in the shadow of his sire. When he embarks on a cross-country voyage with his brother, Leo broods on the fickleness of happiness that results in both tragedy and comedy (but mostly tragedy). Part rumination, part fairy tale, and part road narrative, Ratner’s book paints a picture of the terrible weight of history, self-created or otherwise, that presses down on future generations. The key lesson? It takes hard work to achieve happiness, but the true work lies in maintaining it. Ratner challenges his characters to rise to the occasion. Despite a stacked deck, the glimpses stolen are worth the read. --James Orbesen
PRAISE FOR IN THE LAND OF THE LIVING:
"In the Land of the Living made me laugh out loud, and it also left me deeply moved. Part vaudeville and part tragic opera, it dances and rages with uncommon wisdom, conveying the pain, comedy, and beauty of familial love across the generations."―John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road and Northwest Corner
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I read Austin Ratner's extraordinarily brilliant, creative "In the Land of the Living" almost non-stop, and have spent an afternoon re-reading sections, going back to find some favorite quotations and passages: "Their father peddled certain lies the same way he pedaled his bicycle to and from his many jobs all over Cleveland Heights" or ".. Cleveland, with its ring of beautiful suburbs and long burning avenues leading straight down to ruin". Austin Ratner captures so many specific places in Cleveland Heights and Shaker Heights, his words lifting me back to my childhood there, where I knew his father when we were young, meeting soon after his mother died.
Reading the first section of this deeply moving, emotionally raw, yet humor-filled novel, was like re-living important parts of my own childhood. I had difficulty distinguishing the real from the created details of the main characters' childhoods, and I see that as a gift from the author. My heart was broken when Leo was unable to say good-bye to his mother, or when he kept her lavender blouse in a drawer, losing the scent of her through the mustiness of its hiding place. There is so much loss for the young children in this novel, for Isidore, Leo and his brother Mack. I was struck by Leo's inability to understand how much Mack had lost, never having had the opportunity he had as a small child to know his father, gone when Mack was an infant.
I was amused and uplifted by other quotations, as from Isidore's father-in-law, "..the key to life is recognizing what you can't control, which is everything." I melted with amusement and sadness as I read the diary that Isidore and Laura wrote about Leo's earlier years.. How real and clever that small child was!
The pain of trying to live a life that would make his father proud, and suffering so severely over that early childhood loss that haunts him through the novel controls so much of Leo's decisions, choices, dreams. Ratner uses language so descriptively and precisely, so vividly, and so imaginatively that he has created a style that is uniquely his.
Inserting passages out of order chronologically, adding elements after an event had been revealed and written about sharpened my reactions to the story-telling.
I have already bought 4 copies to give to friends and family and encourage everyone to buy a copy as soon as possible.
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