two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
user_rating: 
0

A-The ReserveArtist Jordan Groves is rich, internationally famous, and about to get in way over his head with a beautiful but unstable heiress named Vanessa Cole. Jordan and Vanessa meet in the summer of 1936 at the Reserve, her family’s idyllic Adirondack mountain retreat, and in no time at all, the sparks are flying between them. But when Vanessa’s brain-surgeon father dies, she becomes convinced that her mother is plotting to lock her up in a European insane asylum in order to block her inheritance. This conviction leads her to kidnap and imprison her mother at the Reserve, which sets into motion a chain of events leading to adultery, insanity, and murder.
Harper Collins. 287 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061430250

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"The Reserve is at once a harrowing mystery, an illuminating psychological novel of subverted love and family dysfunction, and a powerful commentary on class structure in America. … Banks’s willingness to confront … the hard truths about the world we live in, and to follow those truths to whatever dark places they may lead, goes a long way toward explaining his longstanding reputation as one of America’s finest contemporary fiction writers." Howard Frank Mosher

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The Reserve gratifies page by page. But when the pages are gathered together, held in retrospect, there is the sense of an echo still awaited, some deeper gratification promised in the meditative pose of the mysterious, beautiful woman on the first page." Sven Birkerts

NY Times Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"While the reader might not anticipate all the twists of the plot before they occur, the most outrageous possibility to dance speculatively in his mind at any given point in the story is likely to find fulfillment before long. … In The Reserve [Banks] has penned a ripping yarn, which seems equally suited to Hollywood, the book clubs and the talk shows." Luc Sante

Chicago Sun-Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Banks’ descriptions of the Adirondacks, where he lives, are first-rate. … But with its odd, awkward plotting and thin characterizations, this is a mere placeholder for a writer capable of far greater things." Lloyd Sachs

Philadelphia Inquirer 1.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he people who inhabit [Banks’s] meticulously rendered scenes seem far less real than their surroundings, and their story leaves much to be desired in the way of plausibility. … By the time you reach the end of The Reserve, it has come to seem contrived and evasive." Frank Wilson

New York Times 0.5 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Banks has struggled to concoct a plausible narrative, almost randomly threading one colorful incident and set piece after another onto a slender string. … [A] cheesy, histrionic novel, a novel unworthy of a writer with as many gifts and as impressive a track record as Russell Banks." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Though Pulitzer Prize–winning Russell Banks made his name writing about the down-and-out, blue-collar side of Adirondack society (The Sweet Hereafter, Cloudsplitter), The Reserve represents a rare foray into chronicling the lifestyles of the rich and morally depraved. Inspiration for the novel’s many plot twists and turns (and even more twisted characters) reportedly came from sources as varied as the life of flamboyant leftist artist Rockwell Kent to rumors about Ernest Hemingway’s troubled affair with a gorgeous but unstable mistress. Unfortunately, the New York Times expressed a majority opinion when it stated that the many threads of the story just didn’t coalesce, resulting in a mere "potboiler" with "silly and stereotype[d]" characters—a world away from Banks’s best work.