Cover Image: Foregone


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I was given an ARC of this book by Harper Collins and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I did not like this book at all. It was confusing and repetitive. The narrator, Leo Fife was telling his life story. However, it was unclear what was truth, lies, hallucinations, and/or exaggerations. He wanted to be forgiven but it is unclear what for.

For me, this story just seemed to be all over the place.

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I'm not sure what to say about this one. I wish I'd liked it more. I couldn't really connect with the MC and so I never felt drawn into the story. It felt disjointed and jumbled but maybe that's only because I wasn't enjoying it.

<i>A huge thank you to the author and publisher for providing an e-ARC via Netgalley. This does not affect my opinion regarding the book.</i>

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I was blown away by this book. I have been a fan of Russell Banks since Rule of the Bone. I am a contemporary of the author and the main character, so I am also at that point where I am reviewing my life - my successes and my regrets. I related strongly to how memories shift settings and times in the rethinking.

After I finished the book, I wanted to know how many of his books I had read. I looked him up on Wikipedia and found the booklist. I glanced at his biography and was surprised to see that this novel has many similarities to Banks’ own life. Interestingly enough, this point was missed in the review of the book in the New York Times Book Review.

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A legendary filmmaker, in his late 70's, is dying of cancer. He enlists a documentary film crew to film his last days as he recalls his past life(s). There follows stories from his past not necessarily told in sequence. The narrative is very interesting and tells the story of how he ended up in Canada from the United States. Was he a draft dodger during the Vietnam war? is he being truthful? He is very ill and heavily medicated, so how much is true? Being in my 70's (and not medicated)) I find myself questioning my early memories!! The story is wonderfully written full of many memorable sentences. There is a bit of humor, but a very thought provoking work.

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I have mixed feelings about this book. There are several layers of confusion for the reader, perhaps to simulate what is going on with the main character, whose mind is no longer clear with the treatments and medications due to his illness, dying of cancer.

As a reader I didn’t particularly like the lack of quotation marks, the frequent interruptions to the narration, and repetition of some aspects. Yet this helps amplify the tension to mimic what is going on with Leonard Fife, as he is trying to tell his wife Emma who he really is and must do this in front of a camera with her in the room, otherwise he’d lie to her. Leo wants Emma to truly know him before he dies, and this confession feels necessary. He’s a filmmaker and his protégé is happy to film this, although expected a Q&A format, regardless he keeps the camera rolling.

The narrative has a stream of consciousness feel, and full of details and emotions which holds interest. In fact this is what helped me to continue reading. In the end was my curiosity satisfied; well, not really.

I expect this book would bring many discussions and analysis. The writing quality is there, but not always the easiest, or most pleasing, to read.

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I would have to agree with others that this is a 2.5 star book.
Foregone is a death bed confessional. Fife wants to redeem himself before he dies from cancer. His confession, he claims, is for his wife, but he really just seems to want to get it off his chest so he can die without being burdened of his past life.
Honestly, I couldn't really tell what was truth and what was not. Was the entire story true? I kept reading to find out, but in the end, I didn't found out.
This was a good idea for a novella, not a novel. The story seemed to drag on and get more chaotic as it progressed.
I recieved a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for a honest and unbiased review.

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I'm not normally a fan of books without quotation marks. They normally seem just a bit too pretentious and make the reader work too hard for the story the author wants to tell.

By the first chapter, I forgot about the missing quotation marks as the story swept me along.

But then came the middle. Which read like some kind of hallucination/fever dream. Maybe that was the point, but I seriously wanted the story to get to the point instead of wandering around feeling like maybe I was fevered, too.

It all came together at the end, but that middle was almost a deal-breaker for me.

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"Foregone" is the latest novel from Russell Banks, probably one of the best wordsmiths on the Canadian literary landscape at work today.
It's the powerful but rather bleak story of Leonard Fife, an American documentary filmmaker nearing 80, exiled in Canada since 1968 and dying from terminal cancer. It takes place during the course of a single day (April fool's day) in Montreal where former students of Fife are gathered around him in order to shoot a documentary about his works. But Fife has no desire to talk about his professional life, deciding instead to unleash a powerful flood of erratic ramblings and dubious memories about his personal life, his betrayals, his secrets and his emotional failures.
I couldn't really decide if he was knowingly not telling the truth most of time or if his mind was too addled by the inefficiency of his drug treatment.
"Foregone" is a magnificent and very compelling novel about memories, aging and one's abilities to differentiate between real and fictional facts when going down memory lane. Suffice too say that the depressing bleakness brought upon us by the current health catastrophe might actually turn some people away from this beautiful novel and this would be quite understandable. I will probably wait a few more months and read it again. Reading it was a very moving experience but it definitely left me shaken and very sad. To be handled with caution...

Many thanks to Netgalley and Ecco for giving me the opportunity to read this wonderful novel prior to its release date

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Foregone might be read as a thought exercise, an exploration of the nature and meaning of change as it applies to a human life. Can people change in a fundamental way? They can try to change. They can pretend to be a different person, as actors do when they take the stage. They can alter their behavior and perhaps their personalities. But can they change their character? Leonard Fife struggles with that question as he approaches death, tries to make a new life with a better character, but perhaps he only succeeds in his imagination.

Fife was a celebrated documentarian in Canada, although his work is unknown outside of his country. He first gained fame with a documentary about American draft resisters who came to Canada. Malcolm MacLeod, one of Fife’s proteges, has agreed to make a documentary for the CBC (to be titled Oh, Canada) about Fife’s life and death. He doesn’t have much time to shoot the film because cancer is eating Fife’s body and perhaps his mind. Using Fife’s signature technique by interviewing Fife under a spotlight in a darkened room, Malcolm wants Fife to talk about his experience as a draft resister, how his escape to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War informed his work, and why he made certain choices while filming various documentaries. Fife has other ideas.

Fife begins the interview by explaining that his story of coming to Canada as a draft resister was an invention. He says he wants to tell the true story because his beloved wife, Emma Flynn, deserves to know the truth about the man she loves. Fife then embarks on a long, detailed story about two marriages in America that he has never discussed, one to a woman of unsound mind, the second to the daughter of a wealthy Virginia family. He had a chance to take over his father-in-law’s family business, but instead went to Vermont and had a brief dalliance with the wife of a friend. The details become progressively foggy as he tells the story, so it is never perfectly clear how or why he ended up in Canada. He was apparently running away, but from his life rather than the war.

As he speaks, Emma becomes increasingly concerned that the process of filming is harmful to Fife and that the finished product will harm his reputation. His Haitian nurse also objects to a process that she sees as cruel and unduly taxing — she thinks Fife should die in peace — but Fife insists that Malcolm press ahead with the interview.

As Fife tells his meandering story, refusing to answer Malcolm’s questions about his work so that he can discuss what he believes to be important, it becomes clear that Fife’s attempt to tell the truth is impaired by Fife’s inability to discern it. Fife is heavily sedated and in extreme pain. As he speaks, details change, times and places become jumbled and distorted. Perhaps he knew Bob Dylan and Joan Baez but did he meet them in Canada or Boston? After a bit, Fife even begins to question whether the words he is speaking reflect the clarity of the story he is trying to tell. He is sure that he has been speaking from early morning to mid-afternoon when Malcolm tells him that the interview has lasted only a couple of hours, and that Fife must have misunderstood remarks that he believes suggest otherwise. It seems unlikely that Fife could have related the entire story, replete with cultural analysis of topics that include Kerouac and cars, in just half a morning. Fife thus becomes the epitome of the unreliable narrator, although not by intention.

On the other hand, it isn’t clear that Fife ever intended to tell the historical truth. He may intend his story to express the deeper truth of how he feels about himself, how his character is flawed in ways that Emma has never understood.

At times, Foregone is a frustrating novel. It seems like a slow walk to an elusive destination that moves farther away with each step taken in its direction. Initially, the destination seems to be the truth that Fife promised, the actual and shocking reason he moved to Canada. But by the novel’s end, the destination has become less important than the journey, a trip that exists only in Fife’s failing and jumbled memory. Perhaps the journey’s true destination is Fife’s end-of-life fear that he hasn’t been the person he should have been, and that his love of Emma, which should have been primary at all times, is all that matters. Emma echoes that belief in her recognition that nothing Fife says in the interview is important. She knows what’s important: he loved her, and she loved him.

When the cameraman asks Malcolm whether he thinks Fife’s story was true, Malcolm shrugs off the question because the truth doesn’t matter. What matters is that he got his film. What matters to the Haitian nurse is something more personal. What matters, Foregone seems to say, is a question of perspective. Perhaps it is only at the end of life that we gain the perspective to understand what is truly important.

Fife’s story, unreliable and frustrating though it might be, is always interesting. Nothing ever seems settled, and if some of the story is true, it seems awfully unfinished, leaving more questions than answers. Those very qualities — faults, I would have called them, before reading to the end — capture the larger truth that so much of life remains unsettled at the end of life. I wouldn’t say that the truths Fife has embraced at the novel’s end are profound — yes, love is a good thing to have; yes, we should prioritize the things that matter — but the story illustrates the profound changes that accompany aging and death, whether expressed as regret or as a last desperate attempt to reshape character, to leave the world as a better person, as if wishing it were true might be enough to make it true.


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Foregone...good title since it’s obvious what the conclusion here will be.

A novel encompassing one day of a man who is dying, and has some regrets and maybe some explaining to do. Or is it all confabulation? I think a lot of it was, yes. Because in the real world it would all have come out if Leonard Fife was truly a famous film maker, even if he was only famous in Canada.

What else can I say? I can say that it was hard to put it down. Memories within memories. Maybe this is what happens at the end or maybe not. We will all find out.

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A documentary filmmaker decides to allow former film students to document his life. While those filmmakers think they will be making a retrospective and gaining his insights on his important past works, the filming session turns into a bizarre confession of Leonard Fife’s past sins.

This book had a ton of potential. Some of the prose is excellent; however, the story is choppy and, at times, completely nonsensical.

Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Collins Publishing for a copy of the book. This review is my own opinion.

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Courtesy of NetGalley, I received the ARC of Foregone by Russel Banks. This remarkable character driven story is about a documentary film maker, dying of cancer, intent on confessing while being filmed. To be heard by his wife of 40 years, his life reflection memories, whether selective or medication altered, reveal a man who has always been searching for a better version of himself.

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This story is about a dying man, Fife, a film maker of Canadian documentaries. He has agreed at the very end of his life to be interviewed on camera by a prior student of his, that is also a film maker. The one caveat is that Fife's wife Emma be present during the filming. Fife goes on to recount his life from before he knew Emma and before he was famous. The veracity of his recounting is questionable because of the painkillers he is taking. Fife is not a very likeable character and becomes less likeable as the story progresses. It is a very slow read. That being said, there was something about the book that wanted me to read to the end.

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Leonard Fife, an acclaimed Canadian documentary film maker, is dying of cancer. He gives permission to his ex student Malcom MacLeod to film a final interview with him in which he intends to confess to his wife, Emma, the truth about his past and bare all his secrets. This is a rambling, painful account of his previous marriages and his abandonment of all who cared for hm, before he met Emma. He is intent on discrediting any heroic impressions of who he is and was.
This one was not for me. Alhough this book was well written I found this a painfully slow and depressing read.

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“Foregone” by Russell Banks, Ecco, 320 pages, March 2, 2021.

Leonard Fife, a documentary filmmaker, fled to Canada to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam war. He is now in his late 70s and is dying of cancer.

Fife agrees to Malcolm MacLeod’s request to film an interview with him. MacLeod was a former student. Fife is addressing his comments to his wife, Emma. But the truth of his story is questionable because of the medication he is taking.

Malcolm wants Fife to talk about his films and how he uncovered the testing of Agent Orange. But Fife wants to talk about his personal life.

Fife ran away from home in Massachusetts as a teenager. He left his first wife, Amy, and young daughter, Heidi, when he was 20. They married five weeks after they met. He left his pregnant second wife, Alicia, and young son, Cornel, when her father and uncle wanted him to take over their multi-million dollar company in Virginia.

Also at the interview are Vincent, the cameraman, Diana, the producer, and Sloan, the sound technician, who react to what Fife says.

This book is a stream of consciousness dialogue as Fife remembers his life. Fife isn’t likable and he is very egotistical. His dialogue is broken only by the others comments and his wife’s repeated protests about the interview. The novel is very slow-moving and much of it is confusing.

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

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had to the opportunity to read "Foregone" by Russell Banks prior to publication next week. It's the story of Leonard Fife, a famous Canadian ecological documentarian, who is telling his story in the last days of his life while being videotaped by his previous student and a group of staff members. He is accompanied by his wife and nurse during the storytelling. The producer is expecting to hear about Fife's experiences while creating his most famous documentary. However, he remembers and talks about his personal life as a younger man. There are stories about people he knew, his past lovers, wives and children. Fife is not a likable leading man.
I gave up 30% through. I found it tedious and kept waiting for "the good stuff". I read for pleasure and learning, neither were there for me. I think I will skip to the end and see what happens. This one will probably be on the bestseller list and I hope it is. It just didn't like or enjoy it. May be better for a more intellectual reader.
Thank you Net Galley, Harper Collins and Russell Banks for the opportunity.
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There were a lot of compelling themes throughout this story that have left my mind spinning. I loved how it tackled the concept of memory and it's unreliability and subjectiveness, which for me was one of the key elements of this story, along with our tendency as humans to always look for the next best thing in life and to do whatever it takes to get there, no matter the cost.

The story centers around Leonard Fife, a renowned Canadian documentary filmmaker who is dying of cancer and is the focus of a documentary being made by one of his former students. While the film is intended to document Leonard's career as a documentarian, Leonard uses the opportunity to tell his life story and final confession to his wife, Emma, as an effort to show her how much he loves her.

I'm not going to lie, the timeline was a bit difficult to follow. It was told from Leonard's point of view and jumped between the present timeline, where the documentary was being filmed, and various timelines in Leonard's past that sometimes blended together into one memory. Again, I love how this story addressed the concept of memory, however the realistic narrative of a dying man re-hashing his confabulated life story was sometimes a bit much to follow.

That being said, this was an incredible story that I couldn't stop thinking about. This brought up so many existential questions for me. Is it wrong to choose the paths in life that benefit you at the expense of others? Can we trust our memories? Is our perception of our impact on the world and the people around us reality? I would almost argue that the thoughts that this story provoked were almost more compelling than the story itself. Despite having some trouble following the narrative at times, I really enjoyed this story and would recommend to anyone looking to read something that will leave them questioning life as they know it.

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My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced Ebook copy of this novel.

Leonard Fire an American-born Canadian-fled documentarian is dying of cancer and has granted an unsuccessful student of his rights to his last interview where he answers questions about his work and life. As the camera starts Fire begins to narrate not the life that his wife, caretaker and friends know but his real life full of betrayals, failure and constant running from everything and everyone. Russell Banks in Foregone has written, achingly and beautifully about a man who so wants to be true to himself, that even his final act is to make himself feel better no matter who gets hurt at the end.

To Fife though what sounds clear and confessional seems muddy and confusing to the filmmakers. Is it the cancer that is killing him making him so muddled and lost. You don't really know, as the book leaves so many questions unanswered, which allows the reader to fill in their own blanks. Mr. Banks' novel is one that stays with the reader for quite awhile after closing.

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Leonard Fife is on his deathbed. As a legendary filmmaker, he decides to bare his soul and allows his former team to film his dying thoughts. They are convinced they will be filming his thoughts on his career, but instead, Fife chooses to confess to his wife Emma the true life he lived. Or, is it? What is reality; what the public knows, what Emma knows and believes, or is it all a delusion?

It's an interesting look at the thoughts of a dying man. He feels as if his memories are crystal clear, and if time flows through his words, but as the story moves on it is harder to determine the truth from his jumbled memories. Fife is convinced he has to tell his wife the truth about his past in order to know, when he dies, that she loves the real him; so that someone can know him and love him anyway. The story he spins - it is difficult to determine what the truth is. The filming, which the story is based upon, takes place over just a few hours, and is done in a method Fife himself made famous throughout history; a dark, noir film of a darkened room and Fife under a spotlight telling his story. Getting to know Fife through his memories paints a very different picture of the man we first thought we were meeting.

I found this book to be thought provoking and intriguing, if not a little confusing at times, as Fife switches between the past and present and as his thoughts become more and more disjointed. What is the reality of memory; are our thoughts and memories really the truth of our lives? Does reality change, or do we?

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Leo Fife is a filmmaker whose biography has always made him out to be a war protestor who crossed the border into Canada to escape the draft in 1968. Now, as his death approaches, he brings together a film crew to do one final interview in which he will reveal all the secrets of his life. Alternating between Leo's memories and the perspective of those listening to his confessions, this novel takes on a dream quality with an almost stream-of-consciousness telling.

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