TURNAWAY by Jesse Browner


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 A somber fable that offers a disturbing and persuasive portrait of the corrosive anomie of modern life as its effects are reflected in two very different people. Ben Givens, the hard-bitten narrator of Browner's second novel (after Conglomeros, 1992), is cast up on tiny Turnaway Island (in the East River, just off the shoreline of Manhattan) when his boat sinks. The island's only inhabitants (and its owners) are the elderly, austere Dr. Joseph Ross and Elias Hutchinson, a 29-year- old man who is part wild child, part self-assured scholar. Elias, whose father was a famous anthropologist, has grown up believing that he is the last member of the Siwanoy, a tribe of Native Americans largely exterminated by the first white settlers of Manhattan. He spends part of each day attempting to live much as his purported ancestors did, and the rest of the time researching and writing scholarly articles about them. Givens, bitter, angry, suspicious, is appalled that Elias has never left the island. He's at first suspicious of Elias's mix of acute intelligence and intractable sweetness and generosity, only gradually letting his guard down. Then, motivated by a mixture of envy and affection, he lures Elias to Manhattan, determined to yank him out of the unreal vision of the past in which he lives. Inevitably, Givens's actions set in motion a series of disasters that come close to destroying them both. Browner's portrait of Manhattan as a sterile, vacuous, violent place, and of Givens, the ultimate self-involved city- dweller, are exact and ferocious, and provide a resonant contrast with Elias's descriptions of the pastoral life of the Siwanoy. Elias's descent into heartbreak (he is not, as it turns out, an Indian) and madness (his island refuge is seized by the city) is both believable and moving. Browner's first novel was a savage satire of modern life. His second, more meditative, is nonetheless a powerful, ingenious work, further evidence that a writer of considerable talent has emerged.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44788-1
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Villard
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1996


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