Books by Ethan Canin

Released: Feb. 16, 2016

"Book clubs may dig into the many interesting veins here—family, ambition, addiction, lust—but Mean Dad was the motherlode, and it's not clear that Canin's easing of the darkness makes for a better novel."
This complex portrait of a troubled math genius and the effect his gift has on those close to him combines a strong narrative and bumper crop of themes. Read full book review >
Released: July 1, 2008

"It's the journey, not the arrival, that matters, and the journey is an enthralling one. "
A dynasty shattered, a presidential campaign in ruins; a newspaper publisher revisits his youth to better understand an old scandal. Read full book review >
Released: May 8, 2001

"Imperfect but interesting fiction that might also be compared to Steven Millhauser's Pulitzer-winner, Martin Dressler. It signals a new—and very promising—stage in Canin's career."
A richly detailed, intriguingly fragmented chronicle of the personal history and turbulent inner life of a prosperous German-American businessman. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1998

An elegantly rendered coming-of-age tale, set largely in 1970s Manhattan, featuring a decent, duty-bound midwesterner and the mercurial, rather cruel, dangerously charming cosmopolite whose orbit he's drawn into. At the heart of Canin's (The Palace Thief, 1994, etc.) story are two profoundly dissimilar young men. Orno arrives in New York in 1974, having come from small-town Missouri to attend Columbia. There, he's befriended by the sophisticated Marshall Emerson, who is everything Orno isn't: hip, cynical, blithely creative. He's also able, faultlessly, to recall every page of every book he's ever read. Orno grinds away at his studies while Marshall effortlessly garners perfect test scores. Meanwhile, Marshall introduces his friend to life's pleasures: music, poetry, booze, and women. Only gradually does Orno begin to sense Marshall's darker side: he discovers that Marshall has spread lies about him, and even worked to sabotage his romance with a follow student. But it isn't until a disastrous vacation with Marshall's family on Cape Cod that Orno begins to distance himself. He resumes studying, graduates from Columbia, goes on to dental school, and begins a satisfying romance with Simone, Marshall's bright, good-hearted sister. Marshall, now a jaded young movie producer, and his parents mobilize to prevent Simone's marriage to someone, it turns out, they consider a social inferior. Their efforts set in motion a series of revelations about Marshall's long history of duplicity and instability. Orno's struggle to come to terms with his erstwhile friend, and his efforts to articulate his own sense of values, are depicted with clarity and subtlety. But while the narrative is deft, it isn't terribly deep, many of the characters seeming lurid and unsurprising, and the upheavals, culminating in a suicide, predictable. As the story of a dangerous friendship, not on the level of, say, A Separate Peace. But it does feature vigorous prose, a memorably affectionate portrait of Manhattan, and, in Orno, a thoroughly engaging protagonist. (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Club selection; author tour) Read full book review >
WRITERS HARVEST 2 by Ethan Canin
Released: Nov. 14, 1996

It may seem misanthropic to criticize a collection in which all 18 stories were donated to benefit Share Our Strength, an anti- hunger group. But charity shouldn't be a cover for bad writing, and this hodgepodge has more than its share of sloppy work. The tales reflect a common intent, the exploration of domestic life in all its messiness, returning again and again to the effort to define the meaning of ``home.'' Melanie Rae Thon's ``The Snow Thief'' focuses on an unhappy, childless woman, keeping a deathwatch for her father and looking back over her life; Po Bronson's ``The Impossible to Kill Me Game'' explores a fatherless young boy's fear of abandonment surfacing as his mother takes up with a new man. In Gary Krist's facile ``Sleep,'' an anxious broker in international finance chooses family over the incessant late- night calls from London. And in Louis B. Jones's clever ``Stone,'' a married man's focus on passing a kidney stone allows him to ignore everything else in his life crumbling around him. Judith Freeman revisits the muted world of her Mormon parents in ``Ofelia Rodriguez,'' the story of their unexpected daughter-in-law and grandchild. There are singularly amateurish stories by the poet Alice Fulton and newcomer Heidi Julavits: The first is a clumsy tale of Irish-Catholic spinster aunts, the second a confusing attempt at a cinematic-style chronicle about a distracted, impotent anthropologist, his suicidal wife, and the crew that chooses to film her death rather than save her. Robert Phillips's ``News About People You Know,'' tracing the inadvertent consequences of a social column in a small-town newspaper, stands out for its simple narrative virtues. Despite the claim that this is a collection of previously unpublished stories, at least two pieces (Frederick Barthelme's ``Dallas'' and Louis B. Jones's ``The Stone'') have appeared, in different versions, in print before. The consolation for this decidedly mixed collection: Your money goes to a good cause. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

Canin's return to short fiction should be a cause for welcome- -yet isn't, disappointingly. In four adipose, rhetorical, quite forced long stories, he continues—as in his unfortunate last book, the novel Blue River (1991)—to strive for ``wise'' adult tonalities. But these rich, deep voices all but neglect the small flashes of humaneness and helpless knowledge that made Canin's debut collection, Emperor of the Air (1988), remarkable—turning him into a writer who builds high, fussy, false ceilings without walls to support them. Upon an unstartling theme—that we repeat as adults what we do as children- -each story here plays out a variation. In the baldest, the title piece, a powerful captain of industry still is moved to impress his elderly prep-school teacher with his temerity and moral sleaze. In ``Accountant,'' an old friend's later-life success throws a careful man to the edge of his rectitude. In ``City of Broken Hearts,'' a middle-aged father learns something about trust and love from his college-aged son. And in ``Batorsag and Szerelem,'' a boy observes in his elder genius brother what seem like signs of schizophrenia but are instead sexual misapprehensions. It's here that the book is most ragged but also most genuine-seeming: the younger boy has available to him an X-raying psychology no grown-up character in Canin ever does (Canin must be the ultimate ``kid-brother'' writer)—and it's frustrating that this quicksilver perceptiveness is given so little play in the stories, which are bulked-up instead with grown-up characters that are invariably slow, large, and overwide. The stories thus always seem to be wearing their parent's clothes—an effect that reaches into the prose itself, a simulacrum of Cheeverian and Peter Tayloresque modulation that in Canin's hands is just pomp and circumstance. Read full book review >
BLUE RIVER by Ethan Canin
Released: Oct. 16, 1991

In track, champion sprinters know better than immediately to train next for the mile and longer. Not in the book world. Canin's fluent, relaxed, and often stunning way with the short story (Emperor of the Air) is all but erased in this pulseless attempt at a novel. Edward Sellers is a Bay Area ophthalmologist, with wife and son and pool and Toyota Land Cruiser, whose Ralph Lauren-like life- -all modulation, russets, and beiges—is threatened when his older brother Lawrence, a loser with a malformed hand and outlaw charisma, shows up at his door, obviously on the run from trouble. Lawrence is soon put on a bus, dispatched—the novel then goes into reverse to describe the fatherless family life of the Sellers boys as they're growing up in Blue River, Wisconsin. Lawrence is a fact- collector, a danger-seeker, a shadowy exemplar to his younger brother Edward; but mysterious pregnancies and arsons soon assemble as an unmistakably ruinous path to Lawrence's door. Edward is moved to tell someone about it—and the havoc of moral ambiguity becomes the book's ultimate theme. It's a theme very late arrived at, though. Most of the story is milky recollection, in which no character other than Lawrence seems palpable or charged. ClichÇ veins the prose (``...the curse of your character and the seed of your downfall, I now think, was your inability to forget the insults and petty defeats of your life''), and is not helped by Canin's decision to write in a first person that's always addressing Lawrence, as in a long letter. It gives the book a whispered, ultimately lethargic tone, muscle-less. Disappointing.*justify no* Read full book review >