At the centre 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.
Thank you to Hollie McDevitt from Oldcastle Books for sending me a copy of this book in return for an honest review, and for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.
Anyone who reads my blog occasionally knows that I have a deep love of non-fiction and adore being introduced to fiction that reads like fact. I loved the the way that we really believe in Fife abd completely understad Macleod’s determination to fathom the meaning in his work. I am a huge fan of documentary filmmaking and reading this gave me a unique insight into the process and hw all-consuming a career like this can be. I was absolutely delighted when Hollie wrote to me to ask if I’d like to be on the blog tour – and I’m happy to report that I enjoyed it every bit as much as I was anticipating.
This book tells the tale of Malcolm MacLeod’s determination to investigate all the long buried skeletons in Fife’s closet and see how close he can get to the truth, turning creator and ex-teacher into subject for once in his life as the lens is turned upon him. Fife’s life story unravels across a time of great upheaval in American history and the backdrop of this adds a great deal of richness and texture to the novel as it plays out in fromt of us.
The interview that he insists is also attended by his wife is quite a different one to the expected event and what unfolds across the event is a series of reflections and revelations that leave both the reader and Macleod reeling as they realise that they are the subjects of this event, rather than Fife himself, and the great creator has dreamed up a final set piece that none of them had ever anticipated…
Fife’s own set piece comes now he knows that he is dying and there can be no come back or repercussions – his last blast is a chance to air things knowing that he will not be around for too long to witness the repercissions or fsallout from this session and there’s nothing like a feeling of having nothing to lose to allow the floodgates to open wide, and they most certainly do…
I loved the writing in this novels and found myself wishing at several points across the novel that Fife was real and I could learn more about him in real life. He is not someone who I think I’d have had much time for in real life, but his body of work sounds really inyteresting. was glad to have had a week of holidays to really enjoy the prose here and bask in the syory as it unfolded. An original and thought provoking read that will be an ideal book group choice – you could have hours of discussion about the way that we represent ‘truth’ and how honest a biography or autobiography can ever be, when human fallibility and our determination to curate our own lives and edit things out for our own purposes gets in the way
‘As always, Banks’ prose has remarkable force to it… there is such brio in the writing… that we follow Fife into the depths. The book’s real theme is the curse of being convinced that one is unlovable. And who among us hasn’t suffered that conviction to one degree or another’ – New York Times Book Review
‘Foregone is, by far, the most cunningly metafictional novel of the author’s career… Banks is one of the most sociologically minded of contemporary American authors… he is still working at the height of his powers… a tale of deep grace and significance… If Foregone turns out to be Banks’s final novel (and, given its many strengths, one hopes not), it is a profoundly compelling valedictory’ – Los Angeles Review of Books
‘Gripping, human, beautifully written – Foregone is there with the best of Russell Banks’ work. I loved it’ – Roddy Doyle
‘Only Russell Banks could make a novel about how memory is created and edited such a thrilling and unputdownable masterpiece’ – Joseph O’Connor
‘Foregone is a subtle meditation on a life composed of half-forgotten impulses and their endless consequences, misapprehensions of others that are accepted and exploited almost passively, a minor heroism that is only enhanced by demurral. In the rages of a sick old man profound questions arise – what is a life? A self? And what is lost when truth destroys the fabrications that sustain other lives?’ – Marilynne Robinson
‘During a career stretching almost half a century, Russell Banks has published an extraordinary collection of brave, morally imperative novels. The same marrow-delving impulse runs through them all… He traces the forces that influence whole societies as deftly as he explores the impulses that drive ordinary people… a remarkably fluid use of prose to represent the experience of delirium while wrestling to the final moments with the challenge of absolution… in this complex and powerful novel, we come face to face with the excruciating allure of redemption’ – Washington Post
‘Russell Banks is, word for word, idea for idea, one of the great American novelists’ – Colum McCann
‘Vibrant new novel by a grand man of American letters… Banks’ crystalline storytelling is both one man’s deathbed quest to grasp his own life and a pure pleasure to read’ – Oprah Mag, The most anticipated books of 2021
Writer On the Shelf
Russell Banks, twice a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with his novels Cloudsplitter and Continental Drift, 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.