American Spirits

Knopf. Mar. 2024. 224p. ISBN 9780593536773. $28. F
Banks (The Magic Kingdom), twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, died in 2023. This novel in three linked stories represents some of his last published work. It centers on the residents of Sam Dent, NY, a no-longer-thriving rural town that has become reliant on tourism. In “Nowhere Man,” Doug and Debbie Lafleur detest the changes to their community, especially when their temperamental neighbor Yuri Zingerman turns his property (which once belonged to Doug) into a military training center. Love for the land drives Doug’s irrational obsession to an unspeakable tragedy. In “Homeschooling,” Kenneth and Barbara Odell find their enigmatic neighbors, two married lesbians with four adopted Black children, most unfriendly. The Odells change their live-and-let-live attitude, however, when the Weber children come begging for food, but all helpful efforts fail. In “Kidnapped,” Frank Dent, proud descendant of town founder Samuel Dent, is living with his wife and their adult grandson Stevie—a young man with definitely antisocial behavior—when two masked men burst into their house looking for Stevie.
VERDICT Banks’s stories are about fragile, everyday people whom, despite their resilience and strength, life still manages to break. An imaginatively constructed novel from a late master storyteller.
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