It’s my stop on the blog tour today and I’m delighted to share with you all my review. Many thanks, as always, to the publishers No Exit Press/ Oldcastle Books for my proof copy.
Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, is one of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, a past president of the International Parliament of Writers, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous prizes and awards, including the Common Wealth Award for Literature. He lives in upstate New York and Miami, Florida.
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. Fife, now in his late seventies, is dying of cancer in Montreal and has agreed to a final interview in which he is determined to bare all his secrets at last, to demythologize his mythologized life. The interview is filmed by his acolyte and ex-star student, Malcolm MacLeod, in the presence of Fife’s wife and alongside Malcolm’s producer, cinematographer, and sound technician, all of whom have long admired Fife but who must now absorb the meaning of his astonishing, dark confession.
Imaginatively structured around Fife’s secret memories and alternating between the experiences of the characters who are filming his confession, the novel challenges our assumptions and understanding about a significant lost chapter in American history and the nature of memory itself. Russell Banks gives us a daring and resonant work about the scope of one man’s mysterious life, revealed through the fragments of his recovered past.
Leonard Fife is a mythologised Canadian American documentary filmmaker. He is so well known everyone knows his story, how he came to Canada to avoid the Vietnam draft, how he found his early stories and developed his campaigning style. Through the course of the book, effectively in soliloquy, a terminally ill Fife sets the record straight, exploding myths and exploring the truths behind the life he has led.
As a filmmaker it’s inevitable that the last interview is itself filmed. It’s a highly stylised production for national Canadian TV, with a single spotlight, so Fife (and the reader) can’t be sure who is listening. He has worked with the film crew for years, there are squabbles across the group, historical animosity and yet a willingness to get this last interview of a dying man, perhaps as a way to revive flagging and stalled careers.
Fife is a cantankerous, demanding old man. His life story builds in pieces, initially apparently at random, the story cleverly taking breaks then restarting elsewhere. At times it’s deliberately incoherent, as the reader it’s sometimes not clear if these are true events, muddled memories or the confusion of a medicated, seriously ill man. The spontaneous and random decisions of Fife’s early life are at odds with the person we are presented with at the start and it’s hard initially to believe the stories can be true. This ambiguity with the insistence of the director that they should focus on the “real”, received history keep you guessing and engaged. If the story we are told is true Fife was a serial runaway, reinventing himself in a new place and happy to perpetuate convenient misunderstandings if they suit him. This interview is his final confession to the lies that made the myth.
A compelling read written in Bank’s true style, with intelligence, grit and raw truth. As I read Fife’s ‘confession’ I began to dislike him more and more, but the style of writing constantly kept me on my toes, trying to work out what was true and what was not. I’m still trying to work that out now! A very interesting read.
RUSSELL BANKS has published ten novels, six short story collections, and four poetry collections. His novels Cloudsplitter and Continental Drift were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. Two of Banks’s novels have been adapted for feature-length films, The Sweet Hereafter (winner of the Grand Prix and International Critics Prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival) and Affliction (which earned a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ Oscar for James Coburn).
Foregone by Russell Banks
Published June 22nd 2021
Publisher No Exit Press
Purchase link https://uk.bookshop.org/a/1882/9780857304599