“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 From the Trade Paperback edition.
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?
"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