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Osin Paperback – April 1, 2007
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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The domestic plot here could easily fall flat on the page and succumb to its own ordinariness were it not for Lott's ability to capture the vivid flux of finely variegated feelings submerged just beneath the surface of everyday life. _Osin_ has the psychological heft of a novel tempered by the light touch and tight prose we expect from the expertly crafted short story. More important, Lott writes men masterfully, writes them as well as Charles Baxter writes women. Lott's depiction of Osin is perfectly poised, capturing the way confrontation for some men can be both a challenge and a plea, a threat and an invitation. Osin loves to pick fights with people - his ex wife, his estranged son, his soon-to-be second ex-wife, his daughter-in-law ... even his young grandson on occasion - and then takes umbrage whenever anyone rises to the bait. He's aggressively affronted, and yet there's a strange intimacy Osin associates with sparring. Love, Lott suggests in _Osin_, is when it's worth picking a fight over.
At the heart of _Osin_ is the discovery of basic truths about the self that are as common as they are elusive. What makes Osin's experience of all this worth reading is Lott's way of letting us as her readers sense his change of mind and heart, to see and feel it through the lens of his personality and character - partially, imperfectly, slowly, half-sightedly, arrogantly, confrontationally, viscerally, but (in the end) honestly - just the way Osin himself lives and interacts with the world.
How refreshing not to be led by the hand by of a narrator who fills every blank for us in the all-knowing mind and voice of the writer's psychosexual insight. Osin's transformation is gradual and uneven, and though it's possible to identify a surreptitious moment of epiphany for Osin, the novella is wonderfully understated on the whole; the psychological texture of the story is deepened and enriched by the absence of an aha-scene or some epiphanic discovery or galvanizing showdown. Osin gropes after and stumbles onto a firmer basis for hope and happiness than he started with and as he gropes and stumbles and rights himself, so do we with him. At least I did, nodding my head in bemused sympathy with him and smiling in a bit of awe at Lott's handling of all this.
Osin is not an admirable character, but he is a sympathetic one. He has a remarkable ability to turn any situation in which he is the offender into one in which he is the victim. At one point in the novella, when several of Osin's past indiscretions surface, Rosanna aptly remarks, "He does stupid things, but he's not malicious." Osin's estranged son and cryptic daughter-in-law stand in need of evidence as to the truth of this statement, however; they are not convinced that he is anything more than an opportunist. The reader, too, stands to be convinced. And so Lott carefully, gradually---even delicately---lays bare the thoughts and emotions governing Osin's actions, both past and present. The revelations are alternately (sometimes simultaneously) moving and comical. In the end, not only Osin, but also individual scenes, and even sentences, leave a lasting impression on the reader.
My husband and I read the book over a vacation weekend, and perhaps other readers will get some sense of how engaging we found it if I add that there was a constant clamor for the single copy. I am eagerly awaiting the follow-up to Lott's impressive debut and already know that next time, I will order two copies: one for the husband, and one for me.