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Saul And Patsy (2005)

Saul and Patsy (2005)
3.29 of 5 Votes: 3
0375709169 (ISBN13: 9780375709166)
vintage contemporaries
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Saul And Patsy (2005)
Saul And Patsy (2005)

About book: Saul and Patsy are in love. (Maybe too much so, according to Saul's mother, who thinks it's show-offy to be so in love and that it makes other people uncomfortable). They live in a small town in Michigan, off a dirt road, where they have moved from the east coast because of Saul's whim to be a teacher. "Saul and Patsy": yet another sigh-inducing and pleasant Charles Baxter novel.Saul is neurotic, in his own head, and wishes the rest of the world was like Patsy. Meanwhile, she is the voice of reason, the laid-back meh, maybe-I'll-work-at-a-bank half of the relationship, talking Saul off the ledge (or roof, as the case may be). More than building up to some sort of frenzied climax, the novel follows them quietly through little chapters of their life: That time they flipped the car after that party; Saul's albino deer sightings; Patsy's intuition toward what, if anything, is growing in her uterus. Characters drift in and out, including Saul's mom, who has taken a 17-year-old lover.Saul's student Gordy, from a remedial writing class, starts showing up in their front yard and staring at the house. Saul drives Gordy home, and this strange boy shows up again and again. Eventually the student does something that reads like the last chapter of a book, but instead instigates a city-wide cult-like following and puts Saul and Patsy in the spotlight. Gah. I love Charles Baxter. You can read a paragraph and something major happens right in the middle of it and you think "Wait. Did that just happen?" He never quickens the pace of plays a loco clarinet to announce that something big is on the horizon. It just happens. Next scene. He can take a story of a lovey dovey two-some, dangle tragedy in front of them, and then make it go away. He's unpredictable even in the most everyday, no-frills story. But best of all, if you read it slowly enough, you can hear Morgan Freeman narrating it. Just like he did in the film adaptation of Baxter's novel "Feast of Love." And, lo, if that isn't fun.

It was a gigantic MEH. I'm gonna articulate the exact reason, lest I become what I condemn. Saul and Patsy are a married couple who've moved to middle America to undumb the dumbness that's been done. It's not the most enticing premise, but I think Baxter's great so I gave this a chance, 61 pages to be exact. Here's my problem. Characters do things for reasons. People operate under the laws of cause and effect. It's simple. My problem is that Baxter broke this rule. Saul's this very rational teacher who suddenly starts acting in very irrational ways: driving drunk, spying on people, and having thoughts like this "She was panting in time with his own breathing, and for a split second he understood it all. He understood everything, the secret to the universe. Then, after an instant, he lost it." This change from rational teacher to secret-of-the-universe guy is not a Kafkaesque metamorphisis. Sure, Paul's got his frustrations with his life, but that's no reason for him to get all mystic. I tolerated this book for as long as I could.
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Although Saul and Patsy both came from the east coast, they are living in Michigan and have settled into a fairly typical midwestern life style. Saul is a teacher and Patsy is a loan officer in the local bank. They have a baby daughter and are very much in love.Then Saul is assigned to teach a remedial class and Gordy Himmelman comes into their life. Gordy is learning disabled, lives with an aunt in very poor circumstances and seems totally hostile in school. But he becomes fixated with Saul and begins haunting their lives. He will just stand in their yard for hours on end and eventually commits suicide in their yard. In death Gordy becomes a sort of a cult figure in the community and the "haunting" continues.Saul's mother and brother also weave in and out of the story.I liked the book, but in the end wasn't exactly sure what the point of it was.
As an avid admirer of Baxter's work, this promising novel was a bit of a let down. I'd just read the short story that introduced Saul and Patsy earlier this year, and they are very interesting characters, a transplanted Jewish intellectual and his free-spirited wife who find themselves settling in the outskirts of suburban Michigan. The first half of the novel is engaging and mature, as it traces the development of their relationship from insatiable newlyweds to the challenges of early parenthood. It's when Baxter turns the focus of the novel away from them, introducing minor characters too late in the novel for their significance to match how the plot pivots on them, that the novel sizzles out. The ending is redeemed by a coda for Saul that perfectly captures the moment when we let go of childish ideals and start learning to live for small moments of triumph, but there's much clumsy plotting to read through to get to it.
Although the first hundred pages had me evocatively remembering summer '09 (for reasons I can't quite quantify, although I tried to in the big review), the last two-thirds go to something simply good. It's the Midwest, it's the story of a couple and their building of a family - what more could it really be? We've all read so many stories like this, what makes this one different? The thing that makes this one different is the character of Gordy, who only appears for a short while but impacts the rest of the story in a way that I wish... well, I wish Baxter had really taken that plot to its full extension. Instead, there's an attempt to be Stoner or something like it in the capturing of small-town life... but it's less interesting than it could've been. Still, Baxter has a way with prose and it was an enjoyable lite read. Thanks, as always, to The Biblioracle over at The Morning News. More on the book at RB:
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