Cover Image: Foregone

Foregone

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Member Reviews

I have enjoyed Russell Banks from the minute I discovered his works decades ago.

Russell Banks masterfully chronicles those who reside in the "grey area" where most of us live (the majority of us are neither angels nor heros - except in the very small circle of those who's lives we touch)..

Mr. Banks is an artist I  his craft, and I have read his novelss since I was a teenager. 

Personally, I found this novel to be his best yet, as he attempts to provide the reasons behind his character's actions, but finds this is harder than the main character ever imagined. , This novel also is my favorite (so far) from this author's writings,, largely due to the fact that my mainstay reading fare is police procedurals and the secrets within this novel unfold similarly to how those types of stories unfold. This author has held pride of place on my bookshelves for decades and will continue to do so the rest of my life as I trust him to maintain the caliber of his writing at the very highest level.

Until next time, here's hoping that Russell Bank's keep the stories coming as long as he can, he certainly has a loyal fanbase waiting to read his latest!
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my ARC for my unbiased opinion of the book,

I am not quite sure what I just read it left me baffled and wondering why someone would write this book it was very slow moving and I didn't get invested in Leonard or his wife.  Leo is dying of cancer and agrees to and interview about his life.  He takes over the interview and directs it to what he wants to talk about.  His constant asking about his wife being in the room  and his mumbling lead me to think he has dementia.  I cannot understand why someone would need to reveal a secret before they die.  They aren't helping the person they are just leaving them with hate and guilt.

I didn't finish the book I was just that uninterested
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I found this book difficult to stay interested.  The main character was telling a story but it flip flop and was difficult to follow.  The other characters were also confused with him.  I didn't really care about any of them.  It took me several days to finish when normally I read a story per day.
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I received a digital advanced readers copy of this book. I this is the first book I've read by author Russell Banks, and I would like to thank him and his publisher Ecco, as well as NetGalley, for providing me the opportunity to read the book for free and provide an unbiased opinion.  I wanted so much to like this book, and I had such high hopes for it that I had forgotten I had received an advanced copy and went ahead and actually bought an additional copy for myself.  Alas, I was sorely disappointed!  I found the book to be a tedious, meandering read filled with unlikeable characters doing extremely despicable things.

The main character is a dying, famous Canadian filmmaker who fled multiple families and responsibilities in his native US who insists that his dying “confessions” not only be filmed but also be witnessed by his “beloved” wife, despite her multiple protestations to the contrary.  As the book progresses it becomes increasingly unclear whether his ramblings are his actual words or merely his thoughts or whether the stories he describes are his own or someone else’s.  Nevertheless, all of them are unsavory and cowardly and not to be forgiven.  Neither he nor his wife nor any of his friends nor the people filming his dying words are good or admirable people.
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Unfortunately I had to DNF this one. The style wasn’t for me, and I couldn’t really get into the storyline.
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The writing was, as usual, wonderful but i did not appreciate the story as much. It had VERY GOOD quotes but the overall effect was a downer.
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This one was really hard for me. Let me just preface this by saying that the writing here is good quality writing, that is not my issue. I had issues with a lot of other things. The book initially starts with Leonard Fife, a Canadian documentarian, who is in his late 70’s and dying. As his last dying wish he wants to sit with a documentary film crew led by Malcom, Fife’s apprentice, who he has chosen to document his secrets. Given Leonard’s status as a late stage cancer patient who is heavily drugged and in constant pain, his statements are very scattered and incoherent. I was really waiting for some kind of epic moment in the recollections and it just seems to have not gone anywhere. I got to the end and couldn’t really figure out what I had read. I got through it, and fortunately it was short, but this was a difficult read for me. Review posted to Goodreads, Litsy, Amazon, and LibraryThing.
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I love Russell Banks.  HIs novels are always so well developed, and the characters are as well.  This novel is about a documentary fil-maker on his deathbed, and his dying confessions.  Great and un-put-downable!
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The protagonist, one Leonard Fife, Canadian documentary filmmaker (in his best-known period), currently dying of cancer, sits recounting his life for another documentary filmmaker, in the presence of his wife Emma, without whose presence he cannot be sure he's telling the truth -- but alone in whose presence he cannot help but invent stories and present them as true. As each recollection seizes him, he finds himself back in that time and setting, telling the story from that point of view. The feel is less like flashbacks and more like a braided narrative.

         I think the best way to convey a feel for the read is to supply a few brief passages; there are no spoilers here, as far as I can discern. The following passage from chapter 8 exquisitely samples the epistemological landscape traversed here, demonstrating that the unexamined life has barely any existence, let alone meriting the trouble required to actually live it. 

"Every particular event of Fife’s life so far, every action or inaction, everything done or undone, invites his judgment. He can’t seem to isolate one action or inaction from another. The quotidian logic of chronology is too much for him: he’s constantly confusing sequence, causation, and purpose. Six years! he thinks. Six years of reenacting the brief sequence of events that began with his first marriage and ended with this life with Alicia. But look how now, even in saying it to himself, the end of one thing smears over into the beginning of another. And look at how the start of a new sequence, his life with Alicia, takes its character from the end of an old one, like the chapters of a perfectly made novel, until initiation, complication, development, and resolution all blend and become inseparable.
                  
         "He tries to recall if it was the same back then, six years ago and even before. He asks if it has always been the same. Yes and no, and sometimes neither yes and no, nor even maybe. He wrote it then, and the phrase comes back still intact after having lain nearly forgotten for six years. He destroyed the manuscript that contained it. He destroyed nearly all of those early writings. But he knows that he wrote somewhere in a barely begun novel, Yes and no, and sometimes neither yes and no, nor even maybe. He didn’t know what it meant, but he wrote it  down anyhow. He was nineteen years old and was already thinking of himself as a Writer, as a man committed to understanding himself and the world by means of language. But no matter what he pretended to Amy, his adoring child bride, and to his less intense, less verbal friends, he had no words. None of his own. Oh, he could talk, all right, he could talk through the night into the day, a young bohemian in Boston’s cold, dark Back Bay in the early 1960s. But he was too young and confused and ill-educated and frightened to give any meaning to the talk, so he simply reversed the poles and took meaning back from the talk and believed whatever he said.

         "We each of us value our own consciousness above all others. And we must do this. We must do it in order to justify what we are bending our lives to, which is the making of art.
                  
         "He pauses, waiting for the passionate tone of his words, not their meaning, to sink in. Opening his mouth yet again, more words and new tones flow out.
                  
         "We’re all basically romantics. Don’t let the realists fool you. If they claim to be artists in any sense of the word, then you better believe they’re romantics, just as we are."

As the ramifications and consequences of this loose regard for truthfulness uncoil (even on the heels of this passage), we follow Fife into the mysterious wonderland of how humans create their very lives in the imagining of them. 

         All this in a language that gleams with polished precision, images and representations that ring truer than one might even notice. Several pages farther, as he recalls/relives a moment in Boston during his twenty-first year, bracketed between the freedom of escaping his wife's presence and the freedom of escaping his marriage, we read this:

"Once free, walking the quiet streets of the city in the early summer night with a cooling breeze at the back of his neck, he heads east toward the harbor and crosses to the waterfront, there to wander among the wharves and the silent warehouses and deserted counting rooms, the huge motionless black ships looming in the gloom, the occasional produce trucks bumping empty past him toward some midnight assignment in a warehouse somewhere in Charlestown or Somerville, the glistening black sedans that squish by behind him and slip furtively down a narrow cobbled side street or alley. Listening to the foghorns and bells from the harbor, the black water lapping against thick pilings and cut granite sides of ancient dockside buildings and the sound of his footsteps rapidly clicking on pavement, Fife walks alone, and he dreams of flight and the freedom it will bring."

(Yes, in case you have caught yourself counting, I have already mentioned three of Leonard's wives.) 

         The hypnotic hold this style of storytelling has on this reader is difficult to describe. I am recently tired, once again, of stories told in the present tense, thanks to many who breathlessly emulate Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games epic with less than even her success. However, Russell Banks dares to conflate these jumbled leaves of a life into an unceasing present with a deftness that reproduces how it feels to cast back into the being I also once was at twenty, a grab-bag of pretensions and illusions, most of which I can only hope to have shed decades later, all of which retain an immediacy that makes me shudder at my gullible boasting that I've ever had any true idea of what it means to live. 

         Again, from chapter 9 (when the actual story is still only beginning):

"For forty-five years, all my years in Canada, from the day I went out and bought my first sixteen-millimeter camera, I exposed corruption, mendacity, and hypocrisy in government and business. Right? I did what anyone with time and energy and a camera could have done. Anyone. Right? Now, with your camera, I’m exposing myself. My corruption, my mendacity, my hypocrisy. And this is something only I can do. No one else.
                  
         "He says, If I’m confusing you or embarrassing you or making you angry with me, if I’m frustrating you, just give me enough time to finish, and you’ll have all you’ll ever need to know who I am. That’s all I ask—time to finish doing something only I can do. Which is to do to myself what I have spent nearly fifty years doing to the world at large, or at least to Canada at large, exposing its corruption, mendacity, and hypocrisy."

         The philosophical centerpiece of this assemblage of memories, dreams, emotions, and possibilities may occur in chapter 19, a reflection on reality and death. Banks's kaleidoscopic and all but hallucinogenic way with words fits the theme to a perfection; any effort to force the fit is invisible. Just a taste: 

"All creation starts as a single cell of energy that explodes with a bang and becomes the universe. Cancer starts the same way: a single differentiated rogue cell breeds a tumor that metastasizes and sets to eating the body and eventually devours and displaces it. It's the same with consciousness. It starts at birth as a single erupting cell of awareness that swiftly multiplies and starts eating the world, until you become the world. That must be how it feels to be an infant human being, a newborn human baby. You are the universe. An utterly dysfunctional state that, in order to function as a self-sufficient organism, has to start differentiating itself from the world, the way one's organs one by one take on their unique shapes and functions, until cell-fate equals self-fate.
         "Equals self-hate? That's the cancer cell, the malignancy metastasizing.
         "For the first time since he was little more than an infant, just as it is about to come to an end, Fife is amazed by the miracle of his own existence. He's about to merge with whatever will exist after his death, to become a part of whatever there is without him."

         And so forth. Strong medicine, but mind- and heart-stretching like few things I've ever read. 

         This self-told story, to put it briefly, is engrossing. Highly recommended.
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The story line sounded interesting, sadly for me it was WAY boring. In all honesty I was highly disappointed and couldn't finish. 

If this is a genre you like then you may feel differently but I was bored to tears.
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Unfortunately, I didn't make it past the first few chapters. I couldn't get into the story. I went back to re-read several times - but this story of a man I had no sympathy for just couldn't; capture my interest.
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I have never known much about those that evaded the draft by leaving for Canada, and this was eye-opening.  The fact that this was a novel leaves one wondering and needing to research the facts.  What a wonderful idea and story.
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Review forthcoming in Southern Review of Books. The novel's narrator, Leonard Fife, is an American who moved to Canada forty years earlier and made a name for himself as a documentary filmmaker. Now, as he is dying of cancer, he himself is the subject of a documentary being filmed by former students. Instead of dwelling on his career, however, he uses the opportunity to confess his misdeeds from his earlier life. And this is at least part of the point of the story--the audience determines what he says. And the reader questions whether he is telling the truth.
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I am a  reviewer who received this book in exchange for an honest review.  I am a fan of Russell Banks work as well as Atom Egoyan who he credits in the afterward (Egoyan made a film based on Bank's book The Sweet Hereafter.)  The premise is a documentary filmmaker(Fife) becomes his own subject as he tells his life story, revealing hidden truths a long the way.  Is he coming to grips with his life and the hurt he has caused a long the way? Or is he needing to confess to absolve himself before he dies.  Either way, it makes for a compelling read.   As you hear his stories told to the camera with his wife as witness, it is not always clear whether he is speaking these out loud or just remembering these silently.  Banks is very effective at inserting the film crew saying something like "what did he just say? Did you get that on film?" in places to suggest it is a combination of both.  
We believe he has fled for Canada to dodge the draft, but sometimes  we create convenient truths based on the context of our times..  The truth turns out to be a lot more complicated.  Look for some cool cameos from some famous people in the book too.  

I recommend this book -- it speaks to being loved, loving others, and making yourself vulnerable.  It also speaks to questions about life and what we leave behind.
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Death bed recall of life lived, decisions made and opportunities foregone by a fictive contemporary of both the author and this reader, evoking for the latter the Vietnam war era of conflict, foreign and domestic, personal and familial, like no other book recently, or perhaps ever, read.
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The writing in this book is gorgeous, but "Foregone" centers on a completely unsympathetic character, Leonard Fife, a dying documentary film maker who reflects on his life while a former student films him for his own documentary. The use of documentary film provides an interesting framework to ponder the elusive and constructed nature of reality. The novel engages issues of memory and identity, but unfortunately we don't get to see anyone's view but Fife's, while unfortunately is an insular and ultimately unsatisfying space.
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The story line sounded interesting however it did not fill its promise as it became sluggish and sadly for me also a bit boring. In all honesty I was disappointed. 3 stars
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He doesn’t have much time on his hands, Leonard Fife, slowly he will slip away, he is trying to hold on and grasp memories, fragments of the past life together and is tell on video with Malcolm filming in his home, Leonard the once writer, filmmaker, teacher, telling on his life.
It’s a meditate look back and a journey through one man loosing his grasp and wanting to bare many things and slowly unable to recollect.
There is great empathy for the main character, hooking you through this read, with the terrible cancer eating him away and the author evoking the stark reality of it.
There are quite a few excerpts below, fine examples of the authors great crafting that keeps you reading till the mans final day.
There are illuminating days past in these page with his loved life in Canada and turbulent times from planning to fight alongside Castro In Cuba, avoiding going to Vietnam, and meetings with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
This reading In the bleak times we are living with pandemic at present may have more drive at this novel being more successful, one to penetrate the readers hearts and minds as an effective long lasting novel of one mans life.
One may even ponder on how one would tell their story, on their bed of death with camera crew, baring all as this beautiful life slips from us with things we carried.
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0-stars. Zero-stars. Nada. Zilch. Nothing.

Foregone is now in my top 3 worst books I've ever read. I have never read a story so pointlessly useless in my entire life. At least the others have some semblance of a story that keeps you moving along. This promises some enormous revelation that never comes. It's a lie. 

The rest of this review will be a bunch of rambling but will hopefully clear-up my big issues with the book, besides the book existing. 

Fife constantly asks if his wife Emma is there every other chapter because she needs to hear the truth and know how things really were, but at no point during his incoherent, pointless ramblings does anyone react remotely surprised. Maybe that's the intent. Either way it fails at whatever it's trying to be. This is also paired with Malcolm asking if Fife is still okay to film, Emma says no, Fife says I'm fine, Emma grumbles, they change the camera's card because they run out of room every monologue and the camera gets hot.

Details are added that don't matter. Fife mentions lighting a cigarette on a plane and Malcolm interrupts because he's shocked by this, but then remembers it was done in 1968 and says sorry, get back to it. There's a section dedicated to the discussion of opening a joint checking account; not long after this there are roughly 2 pages dedicated to him driving and describing how that's going. At one point Fife goes into a pharmacy to buy a map and we get a full paragraph on who the teenage girl behind the counter could be and what she might be up to.

Fife compares himself to Pinocchio which ends up being one of the most awkwardly contrived comparisons I've ever read, which he discusses with his caretaker Renee, before turning into a conversation on it being made into a Disney movie and that she would like the movie over the book because she believes in the resurrection? Ugh.

Time period inconsistencies happen every so often, such as Fife in the late 60's having a Moleskine notebook, even though they weren't founded until 1997. It's only to be referential not accurate. 

We are consistently reminded of how important Fife was and that he'll go down in history with this interview that's being conducted and not to worry because he'll be done justice. If you're going to prop up your subject at least make him interesting. 

The rambling chapters mostly read like the narrator, who is supposed to be Malcolm but then isn't when it needs to be, is just feeding you information you would find on a Wikipedia page, sprinkled with timely facts that add nothing to the story. It's all useless.

I hate this book. I absolutely hate it. Would not recommend. Would not read another book by this author. I feel like I've lost years off my life after this. 

Thank you to Ecco and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this novel, even though I was late getting to it.
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Leonard Fife is dying of cancer and wants to get his life story on film.  At the height of his career, he was a leftist documentary filmmaker.  He invites some of his old friends into his home to record his story.

This book was all over the place.  It was very difficult to get through.
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