Friday, July 13, 2007

Divisadero

Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje
$15.00 at Amazon.com
ISBN: 0307266354
Layers upon layers in this sensitive and richly composed new book by the author of The English Patient.
Anna and Claire are twin daughters of a farmer in Northern California. Their mother died during childbirth, and their father raises them as well as he can. As an overworked and constantly exhausted man, his parenting is adequate but is somewhat lacking in finesse and sensitivity.
Much of the early story revolves around Coop, a nineteen-year-old enigmatic farm boy whose parents were brutally and mysteriously murdered. Their dad takes him in and raises him to be a farmer and absolutely nothing else.
In time, of course, the girls become preoccupied with Coop. As he strips off his clothes to repair a leaky water tower, the two growing girls find they can't stop watching him. Can't say I blame them. Eventually one of them (I won't tell you which) manages to seduce him.
Going to bed with the farmer's daughter is a bad move; there's violence and the pseudo-family breaks up.
The characters go on to lead very interesting lives. Coop becomes a card shark who takes Vegas for a fortune. Anna moves to San Francisco in the 1980s and later, to rural France researching and obscure and long-dead French poet whose life touches her own in a most unexpected way. Claire becomes something of a recluse, and eventually begins to lose her mind.
One of the girls is reunited with Coop, one finds true love while another experiences nothing but tragedy.
The female leads are virtually identical yet their lives follow very divergent paths. Fortunes are won and lost over a turn of the cards, lies are told, and murders are covered up. This book has all the gritty secrets that come with any dysfunctional family.
Ondaatje's work is very dreamlike and seductive, loaded with subtext and subtle symbolism. In short: this is not a book for kids. Anna is the narrator, but much of the story is told through other characters: Coop or the French poet, a seedy little man named Lucien Segura. Read it slowly. The language is magnificent, the settings are fascinating, the characters so beautifully developed that you'll soon feel as if you knew them yourself.
Quiet an unassuming, yet strangely resonating, Divisadero is the must-read of Summer 2007. A+ work!

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