My best-loved books are feasted upon –literally—since I can’t put them down. They accompany me through every meal, getting lightly splattered by coffee or tomato sauce, sticky from fingers touched by marmalade. The corners of my paperback covers curl out from the commotion in my purse, from the requirement to be available at a moment’s notice, to be read when I stand in lines, pump gas, or sit in a waiting room.
Charles Baxter’s Feast of Love [Vintage] went around with me for a week, and yet it looks like we’ve spent a lifetime together. And maybe we have. Baxter certainly knows the intimate details of Everyman (and Everywoman’s) life. He’s able to herd in the stray little details that cross minds, ideas that usually wander off unnoticed. Baxter’s characters are funny and desperate and angry and damaged, and as much as we’d like to hate them--the bitchy self-centered lawyer, the stupid teenage girl and her junkie boyfriend, the middle-aged parents enabling their hateful, destructive son—we grippingly relate to their absurdity, their joys, and their pain.
Baxter begins the novel by mocking his own profession, launching the story with himself as a writer who can’t sleep; a writer who breaks all the rules of good writing with the cliché of beginning a story this way. He starts up a dialogue with his neighbor, Bradley W. Smith, a fellow insomniac with a face like a “handsome toad” and an eponymous dog. Bradley is a mall coffee shop owner and artist, and through Bradley’s percolating stories, Charlie and the reader are introduced to a community built off random connections and events.
I won’t tell you any more of the story, for fear of ruining it for you. Feast of Love is a novel of quiet intensity. It’s not a new age book, or some gooey romance, but you can’t read it without feeling that maybe there’s importance in even the most mundane details of our lives. Maybe pain and evil are sometimes necessary, and maybe we are all making a difference --of some kind or another.