The palace thief

by Ethan Canin

Paper Book, 1994

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Random House, c1994.

Description

"Extraordinary for its craft and emotional effect . . . [Ethan Canin is] a writer of enormous talent and charm." -The Washington Post "Character is destiny," wrote Heraclitus-and in this collection of four unforgettable stories, we meet people struggling to understand themselves and the unexpected turns their lives have taken. In "Accountant," a quintessential company man becomes obsessed with the phenomenal success of a reckless childhood friend. "Batorsag and Szerelem" tells the story of a boy's fascination with the mysterious life and invented language of his brother, a math prodigy. In "City of Broken Hearts," a divorced father tries to fathom the patterns of modern relationships. And in "The Palace Thief," a history teacher at an exclusive boarding school reflects on the vicissitudes of a lifetime connection with a student scoundrel. A remarkable achievement by one of America's finest writers, this brilliant volume reveals the moments of insight that illuminate everyday lives. "Captivating . . . a heartening tribute to the form . . . an exquisite performance." -The Boston Sunday Globe "A model of wit, wisdom, and empathy. Chekhov would have appreciated its frank renderings and quirky ironies." -Chicago Tribune… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
These are beautifully written, but they left me wanting more. Canin gave only story and detail that directly related to his single central subject. This sounds like a compliment, but it's not. Consider what your favorite movie would be without the details of a protagonist's tastes in friends, music, or movies, or how much less you might have enjoyed that last book if not for the crazy sister or the best friend/drinking buddy, or the action or mystery novel without any romance/flirtation. The stories needed more for them to be depictions of real life, real people. It isn't that they were not realistic, for they were, but they were not portrayed completely enough to make you feel as if you were reading about actual people. Throughout the book, I remained entirely detached, mildly curious about plot, but in no way affected by the fates of the characters. Yes, they are beautifully written and expertly put together, and decent escapes. Are they worth remembering, rereading, or recommending above other works? Not in my opinion.… (more)
LibraryThing member suesbooks
Four powerful short stories --actually 3 are powerful. Batorsag and Szerelem is powerful, well-written, and so moving. Canin knows how to portray real people.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
These are beautifully written, but they left me wanting more. Canin gave only story and detail that directly related to his single central subject. This sounds like a compliment, but it's not. Consider what your favorite movie would be without the details of a protagonist's tastes in friends, music, or movies, or how much less you might have enjoyed that last book if not for the crazy sister or the best friend/drinking buddy, or the action or mystery novel without any romance/flirtation. The stories needed more for them to be depictions of real life, real people. It isn't that they were not realistic, for they were, but they were not portrayed completely enough to make you feel as if you were reading about actual people. Throughout the book, I remained entirely detached, mildly curious about plot, but in no way affected by the fates of the characters. Yes, they are beautifully written and expertly put together, and decent escapes. Are they worth remembering, rereading, or recommending above other works? Not in my opinion.… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
Having recently read Ethan Canin's recent novel America America, I decided to turn to some of the short stories on which his literary fame is based. I was not disappointed with the collection entitled The Palace Thief. The stories each are beautifully written and tightly constructed. I was especially impressed with the title story, a miniature about the academic life of a history teacher, reminiscent of James Hilton's "Mr. Chips" or perhaps even closer to the world of R. F. Delderfield's novel, To Serve Them All My Days.
But unlike those novels this was a short story and it is with the focus required in a short story that Canin tells of a life dedicated to teaching. The dedication is almost to the exclusion of all other interests, but it is not sufficient to provide a moral foundation that can carry the teacher through the difficult dilemma that he faces in the story. But in addition to this I believe the title of the story also refers to the role of time, as the teacher, Mr. Hundert, finds as time as has passed him by that his life is ending with many unanswered questions. True, he had an impact on the lives of some of his students, but did he gain anything in return?
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
THE PALACE THIEF is the fourth Canin book I've read and it is every bit as good as the others. The four long (about 50 pages each) stories here are like mini-novels with fully fleshed-out characters and well-defined plot lines. I was taken in by all of them. "Accountant" has a sort of Dickensian feel to it, with its fussy, hide-bound, hen-pecked narrator whose career aspirations are never quite realized. "Batorszag and Szerelem," is a family drama told by a younger brother living in the shadow of his genius older sibling, which, in the end, lives up to its mysterious title ("Courage and Love"). A failed marriage and a kind of bass-ackwards father-son relationship, set against a backdrop of a hard-luck Red Sox team, is equally effective - and affecting - in "City of Broken Hearts." But for my money the best of the lot is the title story, narrated by a bachelor educator at St Benedict's, an exclusive private school in Virgina. Spanning over forty years, I was often reminded of TO SERVE THEM ALL MY DAYS, but in a much condensed version, of course. Narrated by Mr. Hundert, the focus is on Sedgewick Bell, a bad apple student from the late forties, who years later, is encountered again, when Bell is running for the U.S. Senate. Unprincipled and dishonest, Bell is a perfect reflection of a certain front-runner in the current presidential campaign.

"It was a year of spite and rancor in our country's politics, and the race ... was less a campaign than a brawl between gladiators. The incumbent was as versed in treachery as Sedgewick Bell ... Bell called him 'a liar when he speaks and a crook when he acts,' and he called Sedgewick Bell worse."

Sound familiar? And there is more of the like. Perhaps U.S. politics have not changed all that much after all, considering Canin wrote these stories more than twenty years ago. Every one of these pieces is an absolute gem. Loved this book. Bravo, Mr. Canin.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
What can I say about The Palace Thief that hasn't been said before? The writing is brilliant. Being only 202 pages long I burned through it in a matter of days. The Palace Thief is comprised of four short stories, Accountant, Batorsag and Szerelem, City of Broken Hearts and The Palace Thief. Each story centers around a main character who is always male, always a little egocentric, always misguided, and always more than a little lonely and misunderstood. Canin's style is to give you a peep show sampling of these characters and the lives try to lead. As the reader you are allowed only a negotiated proximity to what really makes each man tick. It's teasing and tantalizing and because the stories are that good you find yourself forgiving Mr. Canin for this.… (more)
LibraryThing member KatyBee
Four well written stories, insightful and measured and a true pleasure to read. Canin beautifully conveys the hearts and minds of his male protagonists, and he is at his best when describing life choices and their consequences.

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