What is truth? Throughout this book, Leo, a documentary film producer is dying of cancer that has taken over his body. He has consented, much to the chagrin of his wife, to be interviewed by two of his former students, established film makers, on camera. As he is in and out of a morphine haze, his goal is to tell the absolute truth to his wife-he has lived many lies.
The author builds some wonderful scenes here, but, overall, the rambling, stream of consciousness style combined with two timelines just didn’t flow for me here.
I've really enjoyed Russell Banks' novels in the past, especially Rule of the Bone and The Sweet Hereafter, but this was a more challenging and less pleasurable reading experience. Foregone was uneven and extremely discursive, with an almost pathologically unreliable narrator.
Leonard Fife, noted Canadian documentarian, is dying. One of his proteges wants to film an interview for a documentary about his life, but once everything is all set up it becomes apparent that Fife has another idea. He highjacks the process and decides to retell his life story and reveal secrets he has kept for 40 years.
Banks is a wonderful writer who is known for complex stories and beautiful prose. That is again evident here, and parts of this story are very compelling and engaging, but much of it is confusing and, honestly, rather boring. When Fife tells the tales of his first and second marriages and friendships long forgotten, I was fully involved. Unfortunately, the structure of the plot brings the reader back & forth from the present to the past and this creates jarring transitions. In addition, the current time elements are actually distracting and irritatingly unappealing. I found myself annoyed every time the action switched back to the present. By the end, I did not feel any sense of resolution, and I apparently missed the point completely.
I repeat - Banks is wonderful writer and I can appreciate his use of language. This one is a story that just didn't appeal to me.
This book astonished me as I read it. Written in a stream of consciousness style, we move in and out of reality along with the main character. It challenges the reader’s perception of ethics and morality with regards to another person’s freedom to speak even in the face of privacy issues. Who controls the narrative of our own lives? Who decides what legacy we leave behind? Deeply reflective and the kind of book that stays with you.
I received this from Netgalley.com.
"At the center of Foregone is famed Canadian American leftist documentary filmmaker Leonard Fife, one of sixty thousand draft evaders and deserters who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Vietnam."
One thing I like about historical fiction, the author(s) take one little nugget of true information and create an entire story around it. Although I knew there were people who fled north to avoid being drafted, I didn't know they tested Agent Orange in Canada. But, unfortunately this book seemed to drag on and on, the pacing felt off and uneven.
Acclaimed Canadian documentarian Leo Fife is dying, but he still has some things he wants to get off his chest and despite his wife Emma's disapproval in he wants to do it in a final appearance on camera; an interview conducted by a former colleague who's aware of the friction between the couple and not averse to employing it to his advantage . While the confession, as Fife characterizes it, is the mystery at the center of the novel, and the fulcrum on which the tension between Leo and Emma turns, it pales beside the unflinching portrait of a man facing his own death and determined to correct the mistakes of his life while he still can. This is Russell Banks at his best, limning a life in full with all the art and craft for which the author has long and justifiably been acclaimed
I started reading Russell Banks' latest, "Foregone" the day one of my closest friends died. The death was all a bit sudden and quite a shock. As I began to get a little better feel for "Foregone", I pondered for a moment about whether I might best set it aside and come back to it once I had further processed my friend's passing.
Turns out I didn't and kept going. I became unusually hooked because I soon discovered that "Foregone" was less about dying than about reconciling with life. It helped me come to terms with losing my friend.
Russell Banks is one of the novelists who I strongly feel is known but underappreciated. His work over the years, most notably "Rule of the Bone", "Cloudsplitter", and "Continental Drift" always affect me deeply. For some reason, he is still a bit of secret.
"Foregone" may change that. It is ostensibly a story about an American who emigrated to Canada in the later 1960's in what the reader assumes is the wave of men avoiding forced draft into the military. Leo goes on to have a highly successful career as a documentary film producer, director, teacher, and mentor.
One is led to believe that this will be a story about that career with anecdotes and detail that have never before been shared. And one would be right, but not at all in the way expected. It's a trick, a misdirection play, taking you to a whole other place, much deeper and profound than you ever expected. And, as soon as you think that it has taken you as far as you will go, it gets deeper. And more profound. Wonderful read. RIP my dear friend Finny.
Thanks to Ecco and NetGalley for the DRC.
Inside a luxury apartment in Montreal with the windows blacked out, Leo Fife is living his last, being filmed by a protege. In a method that he himself developed in his career as a documentarian, he is surrounded by darkness only lit by a Speedlight illuminating his face. But as the memories surface, he ignores all the others in the room, only addressing Emma, his beloved wife of almost 40 years, confessing those parts of his life she has never heard of. But are they true. This elliptical novel is masterful in its approach and structure, almost going backwards through the memories, revealing a life in which Leo went from one abandonment to the next, betraying anyone who showed him a kindness or who loved him even if he didn't love them back. Wives. Children. Incomprehensible. But did they happen. Banks leaves it up to the reader to decide. I've loved the works of Russell Banks ever since Continental Drift changed the direction of my reading habits almost 40 years ago.
Another searing example of the "lived memory" that has come to define Banks' detailed accounts of domestic strife and the daily struggles of ordinary often-marginalized characters. FOREGONE hearkens back to his early works, including a personal favorite of mine, AFFLICTION. Banks is still firmly enshrined as one of America's finest literary artists working today.
I have enjoyed other books by this author, but I found this one lacking. It was a stream of consciousness that led nowhere. The flow between past and present was choppy. Hopefully his next book will be an improvement.
Russell Banks’s Foregone is a deep dive into the life of Leonard Fife, a documentary filmmaker. As he lays dying of cancer in Montreal, the camera has now turned on him as he has agreed to participate in an interview about his own life. What follows is a riveting exploration of his life’s memories, perhaps altered by the painkillers and other medication he is on. But at the heart of this novel, is an exploration of memory. How much of it is a construct? Who gets to control one’s narrative? And how much license do we have to change it with each retelling? Fife’s words come out as part confession, revealing parts of himself even his wife doesn’t know, and part historian of his own life. Banks’ writing is, as always, beautiful and moving.
in the past, I have enjoyed many of the books written by Russell Banks, but this one just didn't work for me. Leonard Fife is in his final dying days, and being a famous leftist documentary filmmaker in Canada, his friends want to learn more about his life and film his as he dies. Fife name drops about hanging with Baez and Dylan during the late 60's, early 70's, and how, after the army interviewed him, they gave him a 4-F, assuming he was homosexual, a story his friends relish. The novel is set as a monologue, and we watch Leonard insist on completing his story because his Canadian friends and wife do not know about his earlier life, the two young women he married and abandoned with his children, as he worried he'd never become a famous writer like Kerouac trapped in these marriages. Fife isn't an interesting character because, to some degree, he comes off a cliche, more than a real human, a character that we can connect with, because he's so disconnected from everyone that we assumed, perhaps falsely, that he should have cared about, including his wife, Emma, who he never bothered telling her the truth until his final moments.
About five years ago I reread David Copperfield because I was looking for one specific passage that haunted me from my original reading approximately thirty years previously. That sentence is :” I had considered how the things that never happen, are often as much realities to us, in their effects, as those that are accomplished”. The sentiment expressed here embodies the core of Russell Banks’ wonderful new book, #Foregone. Whether consciously or unconsciously', we’re all constantly writing our autobiographies, and the older we become the more nonfiction morphs into fiction. The question for each of us is the degree to which this happens. In #Foregone, Leonard Fife, a dying American/Canadian documentary filmmaker becomes the focal point of a Canadian Documentary in which he gets to provide the story as he remembers it. The fact that he is at the end of his life and full of Chemotherapy drugs and painkillers makes the veracity of his story questionable. Add to this the fact that being a film documentarian himself,Fife is fully aware that the completed story will be manufactured by the filmmakers themselves', and probably vastly different from the story he is telling to the only audience he cares about, his wife Emma. In #Foregone, Russell Banks has created a thought provoking and compelling novel- one that is not to be missed.