Sunday, November 04, 2007

Pg. 99: Anne Landsman's "The Rowing Lesson"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Anne Landsman's The Rowing Lesson.

About the book, from the author's website:
Pregnant with her first child, Betsy Klein is summoned from her home in the United States to her father's hospital bed in South Africa. Harold Klein is sensual, irascible, a passionately committed doctor, and a complex husband and father. As Betsy sits and waits for him to stir from his coma, she is compelled to imagine his life.

Fatherless and skinny, Harold Klein had to struggle to assert himself in his family, and, later, to become a doctor and to win the respect of his Boer patients. We first meet him as a young man on a formative, sexually charged excursion with his friends on the Touw, a river to which he often returns. That is where he later teaches his little daughter to row, and finally, where he makes his last metaphoric passage.

The Rowing Lesson is an utterly convincing and vivid portrait of a consciousness and a life, shot through with a daughter's fierce empathy and exasperation. By the heartbreaking end of the novel, it seems inconceivable that we will not meet Harold Klein directly, that he will never wake up, so powerfully has he been brought to life.
Among the early praise for The Rowing Lesson:

"A powerful story of the father-daughter bond in all its fragility and strength. Recommended."
Library Journal

" This novel offers ... insights on death, the frailty of the human body and the ties between parent and child ... lyrical."
Publishers Weekly

"A beautiful study of the jagged bond between father and daughter, rendered in prose that is by turns wild and terse; angular and lavish - and unfailingly original. Landsman is one of the few writers of our generation to have wrested from the English language a voice uniquely and searingly her own."
—Jennifer Egan

"Anne Landsman's glittering, shimmering new novel is a tour de force…. Elation and pain, anxiety and exuberance, and the uneven beat of living are all caught in language as silky and fluid as music."
—Roxana Robinson

"Like Joyce or William Gass or John Edgar Wideman, Anne Landsman fashions a sensual web of memory and desire, rescuing a world at the brink of extinction through the power of her lyricism."
—Stewart O'Nan

"An elegy for a lost father and a beloved world on the point of disappearing. Rarely in South African writing will we encounter language of such fire and passion."
—J. M. Coetzee

"A fierce elegy, a daughter's imaginary inhabitation of the memory of her dying father… an adventure in language.… It makes art of a life."
—Louis Menand
Learn more about The Rowing Lesson and Anne Landsman at her website. Landsman's debut novel is The Devil's Chimney.

The Page 99 Test: The Rowing Lesson.

--Marshal Zeringue