Acclaimed, award-winning novelist Robert Cohen delivers a bold, provocative exploration of the panic of midlife, follow- ing two men plateaued on either side of their forties and the unexpected consequences of changing course.Teddy Hastings is a New England middle school principal desperate for transcendence. Unmoored by his brother's death and a health scare of his own, he tries to broaden his ordinary life and winds up unemployed and on the wrong side of the law. Meanwhile, Oren Pierce, a per- petual grad student from New York, abandons, somewhat to his own surprise, his search for the extraordinary and begins settling into the humble existence that Teddy seeks to escape. What comforts Oren alarms Teddy, and their paths overlap as Teddy's quest for the unknown and unfamiliar experience takes him on a rash trip to Africa, leaving Oren to assume the trappings of his life, including Teddy's wife Gail.Amateur Barbarians showcases a writer at the peak of his powers, tracing domestic ambivalence, the comic perils of introspection and desire, and the terror of an unlived life with Cohen's signature wit and uncanny perception, proving yet again why he was touted by The New York Times Book Review as the "heir to Saul Bellow and Philip Roth."
- New York Times Notable Books of the Year
Artfully juxtaposing two contrasting personalities (as he did in Inspired Sleep), Cohen explores the terrain of male middle age in a novel that keenly observes the dissatisfactions of contemporary life. Teddy Hastings, the 53-year-old principal of a New England middle school, yearns for a grand adventure that would celebrate his manhood. Restless and impulsive, Teddy unwittingly causes a scandal that lands him briefly in jail. Disgraced and forced to take a sabbatical, Teddy leaves his wife, Gail, behind and flies to Ethiopia, where his college dropout daughter is working with orphans. Meanwhile, Oren Pierce, the younger man appointed in Teddy's absence, skitters through life in the same manner he has always done: perennially uncommitted, congenitally irresolute, though he is eventually forced to confront the limits of his desultory lifestyle. (Gail comes into play, as well.) Teddy's sojourn in Africa is the most dynamic part of the book, though it is Gail who acts as the novel's fulcrum; witty, sensual, focused and centered in reality, she remains an indelible figure as the two men in her orbit are diminished by the collapse of their dreams and expectations. (July)
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July 05, 2009
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