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Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
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A-The Garden of Last DaysIn his much-anticipated new novel, Andre Dubus III contemplates the inner life of a 9/11 hijacker just days before the tragedy.

The Story: It is September 6, 2001, and South Florida stripper April (stage name: Spring) has a problem: her babysitter is sick. Rather than missing out on a profitable night’s work, she takes her three-year-old daughter Franny to the Puma Club, where she leaves her backstage with a Disney video. Bassam, an Islamic zealot preparing for jihad, struggles to reconcile his sexual yearnings with his ideas of religious purity and pays for a lengthy solo session with April, which prevents her from checking on Franny. Meanwhile, AJ, drunk and angry at having been thrown out by a bouncer earlier in the evening, returns to the club seeking revenge—and finds Franny alone.
Norton. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0393041654

Boston Globe 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The brilliance of the novel, the first by Andre Dubus III since The House of Sand and Fog, lies in his relentless and penetrating examination of these three sometimes infuriating, but always fascinating, characters. … The Garden of Last Days is storytelling of the finest kind: unforgettable and desperate characters caught up in a plot thundering toward catastrophe." John Dufresne

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Dubus’ prose at times achieves a vivid, muscular immediacy. Unfortunately, he is unable to pull off the most audacious task he has set for himself—inhabiting the mind of a terrorist—because of the awkward idiom in which he couches Bassam’s thoughts." James Gibbons

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"If Dubus had left 9/11 out of the mix, The Garden of Last Days would work just fine. … It feels like a big book that was once much bigger, and even Bassam’s final days, away from Florida and on a collision course with infamy, could have been explored in more depth." Jeff Baker

Dallas Morning News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Just as the reader is developing a relationship with a key character, another arrives three pages later. Rather than feeling the intricate weave of consciousnesses the author hopes to portray, Garden’s structure directs readers’ attentions toward the missing connections among April, AJ and Bassam." Walton Muyumba

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Amid recurring themes from the Bible and Qur’an, serpentine imagery and mostly solid prose, The Garden of Last Days promises to be more than just a page-turner. Unfortunately, the plights of these characters and the plots, unlike those in the superior Sand and Fog, diverge so much that the novel fails to reach a satisfying dénouement." Joseph Peschel

Rocky Mountain News 2.5 of 5 Stars
"The story premise is intriguing and rife with possibility. However, Dubus never establishes credibility in the character of Bassam, the terrorist-to-be, in the same way he seems comfortable with the other downtrodden Southerners." Gary Williams

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"The Garden of Last Days makes use of a similar strangers-on-a-collision-course structure [to The House of Sand and Fog], but the new novel unreels in slow motion, and ultimately April’s encounter with Bassam is nothing more than a glancing footnote to the terrible collision that reverberated around the world. … The rich specificity of the prose in Dubus’s previous novel is seldom on display." Jay McInerney

Critical Summary

Despite critics’ high hopes, The Garden of Last Days proves to be a "big, uneven novel with aspirations it can’t quite fulfill" (Los Angeles Times). Andre Dubus III nimbly navigates the chasm between cultures—between the world of the intolerant extremist and that of the decadent Westerner—and draws his characters with compassion. Unfortunately, though Dubus’s research is evident, Bassam emerges as little more than a stereotype, his stilted English, peppered with Arabic phrases, awkward and forced. Dubus slows the plot’s pace to allow his characters to fully develop, but this choice drains the narrative of tension and robs the climax of its punch. Dubus’s considerable talent notwithstanding, the daring Garden does not rise to the level of its best-selling predecessor.

Also by the Author

A-House of Sand and FogHouse of Sand and Fog (1999): Award Star National Book Award finalist, 1999. Oprah Book Club selection. A former colonel in the Iranian military buys a house at auction once owned by a recovering drug addict who will do anything to get it back.