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Waveland (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – May 4, 2010
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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.