Cage, Nick, and Harper appear to be the archetypal sons of the ideal American family of the 1960s and 70s. The firstborn, Cage, is the golden boystar athlete and scholar, adventurous, handsome, and preternaturally popular; Nick is the quiet, late-blooming middle son; and Harper, 10 years younger, chases after his older siblings, trying not to be left out. With the tragic death of Nick in the 1980s, the breakdown of the family begins. Cages guilt triggers incipient mental illness and the next two decades find him swinging between mania and depression, between grim institutions and comebacks. Harper, who has achieved early success on Wall Street, is torn between wanting to help his brother and seeking escape from his ghosts in an endless stream of women. Told in the alternating voices of Cage, Harper, and their parents, CAGES BEND is the story of a family damaged by tragedy and unfulfilled dreams and renewed by the unshakable bonds of love.
The death of the middle brother in a tight-knit Southern family has a long-lasting effect on older brother Cage and younger brother Harper in this insightful second novel by Coleman (The Volunteer). Nick Rutledge is killed in his mid-20s in 1987, in a head-on car collision. His death devastates everyone--his Tennessee minister father, Frank; his mother, Margaret; Cage; and Harper. It's Cage, however, who bears the largest burden of grief and hidden guilt, discovering in the meantime that he's manic-depressive and spiraling into a decade-long bout of drug and alcohol abuse. His parents and grandmother try to give him the support he needs, but it's Harper who repeatedly finds himself cleaning up Cage's messes, even as he pursues a high-powered Wall Street career, drinking and womanizing to distract himself. Coleman writes insightfully and with a minimum of Southern sentimentality as he depicts Cage's illness and the wearying effects it has on everyone around him, and illustrates the sacrifices one makes--or doesn't make--for the sake of family. Brother Nick leaves little impression on the reader (most of the story takes place in the 1990s, though there are numerous flashbacks to the boys' childhood in the 1960s and 1970s) and at times the mechanics of the plot are a bit visible, but overall this is a good, solid, contemporary Southern novel.
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Grand Central Publishing
January 25, 2006
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