Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Book of Reuben, by Tabitha King

(hb; 1994)

From the inside flap:

"In a decade shadowed by the draft and the war in Vietnam, Reuben is a raw-boned, determined teenager whose ideas of romance have been shaped by the songs of his generation and whose dreams seem well within his reach despite the death of his tyrannical father. He tries to do everything right according to the standard American success story -- but life is not a straight line for him. He stars in high school sports, but has to abandon his athletic ambitions to go to work. He labors hard at the local filling station and works his way up to buying it, but is frustrated by obstacles in his way. He meets a rich and beautiful older woman who takes him into her bed, and has the misfortune to witness her child's mysterious murder. He marries his childhood sweetheart, and finds himself on a battleground that lies between desire and responsibility.

"While nothing turns out as Reuben expects, his incredible spirit and core of strength, his refusal to break down or cave in, is evidenced by his readiness to love again after he meets the beautiful Pearl. And his struggle to become the person he had envisioned gives insight into what it costs him to become a man in a world he never made but learns to accept."


This is a heartbreaker and a charmer of a novel. It's a heartbreaker because of the bad breaks that Reuben (and by extension, Reuben's other characters) endure, but, which, in King's sure narrative, sweeten the novel's (i.e., life's) compensative everyday miracles.

It's a charmer because of not only how King handles the story, detailing the characters' lives to the extent that the reader cares, becomes immersed in (as I did), their daily and emotional states, but because of the complexity of the characters. Reuben, a life-thwarted professional athlete and mechanic, is sincere and emotionally awkward; David, son of the widow Reuben becomes a lover of, is an adolescent rich-spoiled vandal, but he's also kind and sensitive to others; Sixtus, the owner of the auto shop Reuben hopes to buy, is cranky as all aged hell, but is surreptitiously caring; even Laura, Reuben's ball-busting cult-crazed wife, isn't completely villainous -- she's bad, but there's legitimate reasons why her sense of tenderness goes dangerously awry.

King seamlessly imbues the characters' lives with small details from the outside world -- e.g., the Vietnam War and its attendant political-social views, evolving tastes in music and drugs, attitudes towards sex (which really don't seem to change all that much).

This is a perfect novel -- no end-flaws (like those in King's mostly-excellent Survivor), and worth owning.

Side-note: story-wise, Reuben follows two other novels from King's Nodd's Ridge series: Caretakers (which features Reuben's Joe Nevers as a younger man) and Pearl (which features Pearl Dickenson from Reuben). One on One, a story-overlapping sequel to Reuben, was published the year before Reuben was.

1 comment:

megastein said...

I have always wanted to read Tabitha King and now I have a book to start with, thanks my sweet!

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