I would like to thank @noexitpress for inviting me to take part in the blogtour and for the ARC all opinions and views are my own and not influenced in any way.
RUSSELL BANKS’ FIRST NEW NOVEL in a decade, Foregone is one of his most ambitious works to date. At the centre of the novel 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 demythologise his mythologised 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 admire Fife but who must now absorb the meaning of his astonishing, dark confession.
I initially started this not knowing if I would get into the story or not, I made the mistake of reading a couple of reviews, which I don’t normally do. I soon put them to one side to make up my own mind. I’m glad I did, because it does go to show how different we all are when reading, it is very subjective. I have never read any of Russell Banks’s previous books so his writing style was new to me.
We are introduced to Leonard or Leo Fife as he is being wheeled in his wheelchair by his nurse Renee Jacques. Leo is in his late seventies dying of cancer, he is a famous Canadian film documentary maker, who now wants to have a final interview recorded, where he wants to bare all his sins, despite not being religious he feels he needs to tell everything. Filming his last confessions is his acolyte Malcolm MacLeod. Malcolm along with his team, Vincent on the camera, Diana, Producer as well as Malcolm’s live in partner and Sloan who is sorting out sound. Malcolm has a list of questions that he believes he will be putting to Leo, but Leo has a different agenda, he is going to say what he feels he needs to say.
Leo is filmed sat in his wheelchair in darkness with just the one light on him, the silhouette of his head and shoulders, he doesn’t want his cancer riddled body seen. Leo basically takes over the recording, he is the narrator of the story. As he opens up he tells of his past two marriages, his betrayal of his best friend, his abandonment of his children, his desertion to Canada to escape being drafted to the Vietnam war along with his forays with Joan Baez and Bob Dylan at that time. Leo doesn’t come across as the nicest person in the world, he doesn’t even seem remotely likeable if everything he says is true, he literally abandoned one person after another, his parents, his first wife Amy and his daughter Heidi, his second wife Alicia and son Cornel as well as the baby she was expecting, his best friend. None of this show’s him in a good light at all.
It’s easy to believe the story Leo tells as he starts announcing he had been married for the first time at 20 and had a child with that wife, but had realised almost straight away that he was too young. Everything he is saying as they begin filming makes sense, but as he becomes more tired as time slowly passes, the stories become a little disjointed in his recall. Leo insists Emma his wife of 40 years stays in the room during the whole of filming, if she leaves the room he will not continue, he needs her to hear everything he has to confess. Surely his wife already knows her husband, of his life before they met.
I was engrossed in this story. The writing flows beautifully all by Leo as the narrator, there is very little dialogue. As Leo talks the only thing that brings you back to the fact that he is telling a story is when there are the breaks in the filming for a card change, or when Leo needs medical attention, as he becomes overtaxed leading him to drift off or need more urgent medical attention. Leo last wish is to tell his story, he no longer cares what it could do to his name or his legacy as he will no longer be around. The reason he wants his wife there is because he wouldn’t tell her the whole truth if he was sat looking at her, this way with a camera rolling he knows he will be truthful, it’s clear she hadn’t married Leo for his fame, fortune or prestige, she is not a bit of eye candy, she is a respected professional in her own field. Juggling things to be with Leo as he is living his final days.
I began not thinking highly of Leo, of what he was claiming he had done to people who had loved him, but at the end my impression of the filmmakers changed as their story became more important than a man’s dignity at the end of his life.
It may be that Banks has left it for the reader to decide for themselves if they believe the story as Leo tells it, or if you look at it that it’s about how we remember, can those memories change as we grow old or in Leo’s case ill with cancer. With the drugs being pumped through the body. How reliable is Leo as the narrator? Could it be possible that he is mis-remembering? Or does the reader believe the story as Leo tells it?
This is a book that makes you think hard as you finish it, it’s up to you how you want to read it. Whether it be that you believe all that Leo has said as a dying man, and take that as truth. Or do you see it as a mixture of mixed memories that have become muddled up over the years, with age, ill health and drugs. Whichever way you go, this is a thought provoking story of a dying man’s thoughts as he wants to confess. As I wiped the tears from my eyes on the last pages I found this a truly moving, heartbreaking story.
Without a doubt a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ star read, that will stay with me. Having lost my sister to cancer the emotions evoked were so powerful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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 for which earned a ‘Best Supporting Actor’ Oscar for James Coburn). Banks has won numerous awards for his work, among them a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the ARts Creative Writing Fellowships, O. Henry and Best American Short Story Award, and the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
One of America’s most prestigious fiction writers, Russell Banks was president of the International Parliament of Writers and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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