The Reserve, by Russell Banks (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).
"Twenty-nine-year-old Vanessa Cole is a wild, stunningly beautiful heiress, the adopted only child of a highly regarded New York brain surgeon and his socialite wife. Twice married, Vanessa has been scandalously linked to any number of rich and famous men. But on the night of July 4, 1936, at her parents' country home in a remote Adirondack Mountain enclave known as The Reserve, two events coincide to permanently alter the course of Vanessa's callow life: her father dies suddenly of a heart attach, and a mysterious seductive local artist, Jordan Groves, blithely lands his Waco biplane in the pristine waters of the forbidden Upper Lake. ... [Jordan] falls easy prey to her electrifying personality, but it is not long before he discovers that the heiress carries a dark, deeply scarring family secret. Emotionally unstable from the start, and further unhinged by her father's unexpected death, Vanessa begins to spin wildly out of control, manipulating and destroying the lives of all who cross her path."
"When finally no one was watching her anymore, the beautiful young woman extracted herself from her parents and their friends and left the living room."
Yawn. Based on the reviews I'd read (which, admittedly, were a while back), I expected more from this book. The concept was intriguing -- a rich, somewhat spoiled "wild child" who has some deep dark secrets hidden in her silk-lined mahogany closets -- but the execution "meh" at best. For one thing, the description of Vanessa's physical beauty and the sex appeal of another character's love interest evoked shades of Danielle Steel. You might get away with describing one character as luminous, if you do so convincingly enough that the reader forgets it's a cliche, but two? Within 100 pages of each other? Gag me.
For another, the unanswered questions about how much of what Vanessa believes is real vs. how much is a product of her mental instability (Dr. Cole invented the lobotomy? She was sexually abused as a child?) -- a technique that can be very unsettling and compelling when it's done well -- just doesn't seem to work here. Maybe it's because neither side is really fleshed out well; all we have is Vanessa hinting at events on one hand, and her mother and Jordan saying, "No, that didn't happen" on the other. Ditto the ambiguous ending. It's not clear exactly what becomes of Jordan and Vanessa, which could be interesting in other contexts ... except that I didn't feel like I had enough evidence to even speculate convincingly for one argument or another.
All in all, a fairly quick book and not absolutely horrible, but also not entertaining or provocative enough for me to bother recommend it. Moving along here.
- Ithaca, New York
- MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.