I got this book for $1 and wasn’t expecting that much from it. It started out slow but really picked up near the middle. I thought it was a good book and defiantly worth what I paid for it. I looked at reviews and lots of people thought this was not a good example of the author and it got rated poorly. People said the dialogue was poorly written, the character’s one dimensional and the plot not believable. While there is nothing remarkably noteworthy I thought it was a good read. I thought the dialogue was neutral neither good nor bad, the novel has themes of class so the characters need to be cliched for the author’s message, the plot was a bit contrived at times but not overly so. I liked the concept a lot. If this is considered the author’s bad work his other books must be really good. I would rate The Reserve highly partly because I had very low expectations when I started (it was a buck, the cover wasn’t that interesting and I never heard of Russell Banks). I could see if you went in expecting a ground shattering novel your experience may be worse. This is a more mature novel, it deals with some serious themes that take some awareness to pick out. I like the ideas and themes, but the story itself may be a bit bland for some.
The story takes place on “The Reserve” a camp ground in America for rich people and the near by town from rich people hire as servants while they are at camp. The story is set in the summer of 1936 and the Spanish civil war plays a part in the story, albeit a subtle role. The protagonist, Jordan Grooves is a successful artist and fits the caricature of an attractive man; tall, good looking, rich, adventurous etc. Jordan learned to fly a plane in WWI and he frequently flies his plane in the story. The story begins with Jordan flying out to meet Dr.Cole, an amateur art collector who is interested in buying some of Jordan’s works. At Dr.Cole’s camp Jordan meets Vanessa, Cole’s scandalous adopted daughter. Vanessa is the caricature of the beautiful rich spoiled woman.
*Plot Spoilers Ahead*
Quick synopsis is Dr.Cole dies from a heart attack later on that day they meet. Vanessa’s mother wants to commit her to a mental hospital and not give Vanessa her inheritance. Vanessa remains calm when confronted but then ends up tying her mother up and keeps her hostage so she won’t get committed to a mental hospital. She ends up talking Hubert, a quite man who maintained their property, into her scheme. I thought the dialogue was good in these parts. Vanessa immediately plays the victim and garners sympathy from Hubert. She explains how evil her mother is and how scared she was, and Hubert goes along with her scheme. This is a great example of how beautiful women can manipulate men. Vanessa has a bad reputation, kidnaps her own mother and is still able to gain sympathy from the simple uneducated man easily.
Vanessa pries her mother to know who her real parents were. She knew she was adopted but her father would never tell her who her parents were. She coerces the information out of her. Her mom admits to getting drunk at a frat party and getting knocked up by a stranger. Her parents sent her away to cover up her mistake so she could give birth and give the kid (Vanessa) to an orphanage. The mom marries Dr.Cole but they have a sexless marriage because the dad can’t get over the fact she’s not a virgin. Vanessa ends up raising her kid with his resources. The rich “successful” doctor gets knowingly cucked and leads a terrible family life. Just because someone looks like they are doing well they might be doing really bad.
Vanessa spins everything to make her seem the victim. At her father’s funeral she tells an account about how her father would sexual abuse her as a child and took naked photographs of her. A fabrication when she “finds” them and asks Jordan to bury them near the end. She believes her mother is cruel to her because she was adopted.
Jordan comes to the camp because he is infatuated with Vanessa and wants to bang her. Vanessa’s mom ends up finding a shotgun and as Hubert tries to wrestle it away from her she ends up getting shot and dies. They end up burying the body and come up with a story about how Vanessa went home leaving her mother at the camp and she somehow vanished. Hubert has a guilty conscious and ends up telling the park manager what happened.
The other part of the story is Jordan’s wife is sleeping with Hubert. His wife thinking she was found out mistakenly ends up confessing to Jordan. This was one of my favorite parts of the book. Jordan has cheated on his wife before and wrote about it in books he’s published. His identity is tied up in being the bad one in the marriage. When his wife reveals she’s had an affair he realizes how he only thought he knew her but didn’t really know her. Telling his wife he needs to contemplate his “next move” Jordan says:
“What I have to know is what exactly has happened Alicia? What has happened? So that I can decide what I am to do now. My next move.”
“What do you mean?”
I mean, do I divorce you? Or do I fall down on my knees and promise to be a better husband? Do I fly into a rage and knock you down and bust all the furniture? Or do I weep in sorrow and self-pity for having lost the love of my life? What the hell am I supposed to do?”
Jordan isn’t sure about what he should do or feel. Learning about his wife cheating upsets him, but he realizes he’s done the same to her. He thought he figured out who he was and was going to settle down and not go on anymore adventures. He just wrote a letter to his friend saying he wasn’t going to fight in the Spanish civil war. Since this shook his identity at a critical decision point he tears up that letter and volunteers to fight instead. This leads to his death after the events of the book in April 1937. He gets shot down on his last mission by the fascists. It really makes me think about the effects certain actions can have on people.
A major concept here is the need to confess. Both Hubert and Alicia confess to ease their conscious even though that confession made the situation a whole lot worse and wasn’t needed. The book brings up the idea that omission of facts is lying. It leaves the reader to question, is it better to live with a sense of guilt to protect the other party? Confessing might make you feel better but do a end up doing a lot of harm and leaves you worse off than if you remained silent. Still people feel the need to confess despite the irrationality of it.
Jordan also provides a musing on classes, that women are somehow attracted to hardy men of lower classes than themselves. His wife fucked a guide who barely gets by financially but is a resourceful outdoors man. Jordan thinks that’s why he can score so many aristocrats like Vanessa. This is partly to protect his ego, but there might be some truth to it.
I think the Reserve an intelligent book with insights into people’s nature. There are some good ideas presented in it although the story is as exciting as it could be in parts. I like that the story is set during the Spanish civil war and hopefully encourages readers to learn about it.
The Reserve can be found on Amazon, but I am not sure I would recommend it at full price. Still it can be found for purchase on Amazon [amazon text=here&asin=B004JKM67W]