America America: A Novel

by Ethan Canin

Hardcover, 2008

Call number




Random House (2008), Edition: 1, 458 pages


In the early 1970s, Corey Sifter, the son of working-class parents, becomes a yard boy on the grand estate of the powerful Metarey family. Soon, through the family's generosity, he is a student at a private boarding school and an aide to the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president of the United States. Before long, Corey finds himself involved with one of the Metarey daughters as well, and he begins to leave behind the world of his upbringing. As the Bonwiller campaign gains momentum, Corey finds himself caught up in a complex web of events in which loyalty, politics, sex, and gratitude conflict with morality, love, and the truth.

Media reviews

“America America” doesn’t quite earn its grand, double-barrelled title, but its reach is wide and its touch often masterly.

User reviews

LibraryThing member alaskabookworm
A novel about politics, small towns, family, and the inner-workings of all those things.

I am reminded of a blend between “All the King’s Men” and “Brideshead Revisited”. I am also reminded of the present.

The time is the early 1970s. There is a presidential election. People are tired of
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the U.S.’s presence in Vietnam. On the scene is Henry Bonwiller, a charismatic liberal who becomes a frontman for the democratic nomination. In Bonwiller, we see a political stooge, a mouthpiece of the smarter and purer-of-heart liberal capitalist Liam Metarey, who is Bonwiller’s campaign manager. Bonwiller doesn’t get the nomination: there is a tragedy, some gross errors of judgment. There are suggestions of the all too common missteps of high profile politicians over the last couple generations. The question is asked: what really happened. Who played what part in the events? Who was changed by events and how?

The message of hope and change during a time of profound societal disenchantment rings eerily familiar during our present election-time. The inner-workings of the political machine; the “right” person at the right time, the ebb and flow of support and media coverage: all of it fickle and haphazard and almost accidental. But inside that complex machinery are good, if imperfect, well-meaning people.

Narrated in first-person by Corey Sifter, now a newspaper publisher, but during Bonwillers presidential run, he was a young man of modest means, employed by the Metarey family, and an unwitting witness to an unfolding of a uniquely American drama.

I enjoyed the characters, the action, the story’s momentum. Though it forced me to pay attention, I even liked the chronological shifts, the slow unfolding of the backstory, the stories of the lives of the people, another kind of complex machinery.
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LibraryThing member mdexter
Here's the political novel to throw in your beach bag in this summer of an election year. Ethan Canin takes us back to the election of 1972 and the struggle for the Democratic party nomination. Corey Sifter has a front row seat as the politics unfold. Growing up in working-class upstate New York,
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Corey has been taken under the wing of industrialist Liam Metarey who is backing New York Senator Henry Bonwiller for the nomination. Corey becomes entangled with the whole Metarey family and its involvement in the scandal that will ultimately destroy Bonwiller. Canin paints a political and social landscape that encompasses not just the 1972 election but the last quarter of the 20th century. The drama unfolds through Corey's eyes, as a naive idealist in 1972 and later as an adult when he comes to terms with the reality of what he witnessed. Canin's style evokes both the cloudy understanding and loyalty of Corey in his youth and the clarity and resignation of Corey as an adult. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member owenre
With a title like America, America, the reader knows this will be a variation of the Great American Novel. The novel is populated with the mythic figures we like to use to tell our story and the expanse of time is centennial. There is the man who was given opportunity to rise from solid blue collar
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background to a position, both of material wealth, but also intellectual wealth. There is the immigrant who made good and his progeny. There is a noble and wise mother. A politician with secrets. The conflict of grand intention and private sin. Oh yes, this novel has noble intentions.
It has some problems too, because in an effort to make the characters more subtle and nuanced, they lose some pungency. The interleaving of time periods is a bit contrived, and the foreshadowing of plot twists or revelations are so heavy, that the reader receives the knowlege with a growing disappointment of denied delight.
And yet, this is also a delightful novel of a period we need to think about in the Great American Novel perspective. The Vietnam War era needs to be knitted into the fabric of American dialogue and Canin has portrayed a moment when the political establishment had to changed as the media changed.
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LibraryThing member joeltallman
Ethan Canin tries for a lot with this book. It's the tale of Corey Sifter, who becomes involved in the lives of his wealthy and influential neighbors, the Metareys, as a teenager in the early 1970's--and through them, in the crucial events of the presidential campaign of a liberal New York senator.
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There are two other timelines: Corey as a university student, and Corey in the present day, when the death of the senator leads him to ruminate upon the events of his past. Those readers who come to the novel expecting the thrilling tragedy of murder, secrets, and suicide implied by the jacket flap description may be disappointed in the book's careful, steady tone. Those seeking the literary qualities of Ethan Canin, a fine short story writer and novelist, may find themselves disappointed in the sometimes empty prose. But pitch your expectations a little more to the middle, and you may find yourself happily settled into the story, which has political ambitions, but is more satisfying as a family drama. Canin's themes include the transformation of America from a rural innocence to a Starbucks cynicism (he does have a genial open-minded attitude even to the mall culture that invades his small-town New York state setting), and a corresponding transformation of political life, but it is the way those changes are exemplified in Corey Sifter, his family, and those around them, that gives the story its strength. As several reviewers here have noted, there's plenty of portentous telegraphing of the coming tragedy, but somehow the last couple of chapters still manage to pull most of the right strings, and bring this often dry novel to a warm and satisfying conclusion.
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LibraryThing member csayban
This story, while beautifully written, is difficult to classify. Is it a historical fiction piece? Is it a murder mystery? A coming-of-age story? A political diatribe? A rags-to-riches yarn? Actually, a title as broad as America, America is fitting because it takes on all of these things at once.
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The shocking part is that it actually works. It doesn’t feel like a reach. In fact, it works quite well by employing something rarely used anymore – the art of subtlety.

The characters - beginning with the first-person protagonist, Corey Sifter - are exceptionally well done. You really do feel that you know them so well - feeling what they feel and sensing what they sense. It is a remarkable art of character development that Canin successfully uses to pull the reader in. In addition to that, he employs a master’s touch of laying out the atmosphere of Western New York - from its culture to the look of the trees and the heaviness of the air. The book is as much art as it is story. As someone who grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, I can tell you that Canin’s portrayal of that part of the country is spot on. While some reviewers had a problem with Canin jumping back and forth in time throughout the story, I think he did a great job of leading the reader through it without needing to resort to labeling each change with a date. In fact, the layered structure makes the story more powerful and interesting than if it had been laid out chronologically.

Canin also does a wonderful job weaving the fictional Senator Henry Bonwiller into the actual Presidential campaign of 1972. He was able to insert his candidate in among the real-life history without tearing it all apart – an admirable accomplishment in itself. It felt organic rather than shoehorned. Anyone interested in writing historical fiction should pay particular attention to how this story does it so well. However, nobody reading this book is going to have any trouble figuring out which side of the political aisle Ethan Canin falls on. I’m an independent thinker and I like it when writers provoke me to reassess my own beliefs, but it is certainly not lost on me that the book was released in the middle of a Presidential election season. I don’t mind authors inserting issues they find important into their fiction, but frankly, Canin gets a bit carried away and beats the reader over the head with it, especially near the end. It is the one flaw of the book that it feels like a bit of a rant and sticks out from everything else. I don’t mind the message, but a bit of a softer touch might have blended better with the rest of the story.

The political pandering of the book notwithstanding, I really don’t have anything bad to say about the story. It’s not a thriller or a murder mystery. While elements of both are in the story, they are really just another form of scenery. And while there is little real action or dramatic tension, I never felt like the story dragged. That says something for the writing, because that is no easy feat. The real story is the assent of Corey Sifter and how he grows to understand all of the people involved in his life, although sometimes painfully late. America, America does a beautiful job of showing just how the coming-of-age of a young man might look within the womb of a struggle for national power. His ultimate lesson is that he has to learn how to learn - and it is a neverending struggle. This is certainly a book worth reading, if for no other reason than to enjoy the rich characters and lush scenery. There is a lot to experience in this book – you almost need to read it more than once to take it all in. It certainly has its place on the shelves of any reader looking for an artful, character-centered book filled with beautiful prose.

I do have one complaint, however. It’s not with the story, but it is with the book itself. I don’t know when it became fashionable for publishers to make the page edges roughed up and out of line rather than smooth, but please stop it. It doesn’t make the book nicer or ‘classic.’ It just makes it really hard to turn the pages and sheds little paper flakes all over the place. If you want the book to have an expensive, classic feel, focus on the binding and using high-quality paper. Leave out the alignment gimmicks, they really don’t work. On the plus-side, the cover art chosen was fantastic.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
America America, the novel by Ethan Canin, is an immensely readable saga of a young man's life in middle America. That his life intersected with that of a renowned Senator from his state is part of the story that Canin tells, but not the most important part. In fact the political narrative while
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interesting may diminish the coming of age story about Corey Sifter, his family, his home town and his mentor, Liam Metarey. The narrator, Corey, is an examplar of the old-fashioned Puritan work ethic. He demonstrates this both in his physical work at home and for the Metareys; and again in his studies at the private school which he attends, with the support of his mentor, as he uses his love of reading and dedication to study as a way to overcome his discomfort in a school where most students are from backgrounds completely different from his own. His mentor liked to say to him, "work will set you free" (p 401). It seems that every small town has a family like the Metareys; bigger than life and more powerful than most others in town. I know my own small town home did. That was part of what made this book a comfortable, compelling read for me.

The novel is both written and structured well, narrated by an interesting first person who knows enough of the town secrets to keep you interested, but not all, and who has an unwillingness to share all that he does know. What is the right thing to do when your mentor's family overreaches? Do you forgo their largesse or do you look the other way and try to pretend that everything is all right? We find the narrator musing, "Liam Metarey remains a mystery to me to this day. I knew him for what he seemed to be in the eyes of a sixteen year-old boy . . . In retrospect I understood almost nothing."(p 427)

The author sometimes, however briefly, strikes notes of hubris in his assumptions about what is good for America, but because this is fiction the reader can forgive him and remember that real world politics is never as idealitically pure as it may be portrayed by novelists with "rose-colored" glasses. In spite of this I truly enjoyed this book for most its sentiments and for those passages that betrayed an honesty and love for an America that was and, hopefully, may not yet be lost.
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LibraryThing member TimBazzett
"America America/God shed his grace on thee ..."

It was a song we all learned and sang, growing up in this land of the free. And in this novel, AMERICA AMERICA, Canin has painted a vibrant and lushly detailed prose portrait of what it was like to grow up in the America of the 1970s, and has also
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filled in a dark and often murky background of just how this country was built. The blood, sweat and tears are all there, along with the cruelty and ruthlessness that were often the hallmarks of the early barons of industry - lumber, coal, oil and railroads.

Canin's young protagonist, Corey Sifter, is a kind of Everyman - raised by working class parents, but then lifted above his class by means of private schools and higher education, a gift from the wealthiest family in his upstate New York town. Liam Metarey is the third generation of immigrants who rose to that robber baron level of extreme wealth. Unlike his ruthless father, Liam is a decent man, a king-builder who supports the presidential candidacy of New York senator, Henry Bonwiller, and along the way takes young Corey under his wing and teaches him the ways of the world. Under Liam's tutelage, Corey learns much, some lessons much harder than others.

Canin has created a large cast of fully human characters in the Metarey and Sifter families, as well as the conflicted Bonwiller with his grandiose ambitions, vain affectations and ultimately fatal flaws. He employs a first-person narrative - Corey looking back at those heady times leading up to a national election from an adult perspective, thirty-plus years later. He has become the owner publisher of a small independent newspaper in a time when such businesses are going the way of the buffalo. There is wisdom, but also much doubt and wonder about the human condition in the voice Canin has given to Corey. And that is what makes this book so magical, so real, so nearly perfect as a fictional representation of how it was in the Nixon years, the Vietnam war years.

Perhaps I was able to identify so closely with Corey because I was a college student myself during those times of unrest and protest. I was already a veteran, and, much like Corey Sifter, I did not participate in all those things. Instead I kept my head down and concentrated on my studies, feeling so often like a fraud, like one who didn't deserve to be at college, desperate to prove myself, to earn the exalted slot I'd found myself in, going for that degree. My father, like Corey's, had never gone to college.

Ah, hell. I know I'm tripping over my own tongue here, trying to convey how much I enjoyed this book, how I was transported back and forth in time by the jumps from past to present in the narrative; how often I had to simply stop reading and think about where I'd been and what I'd been doing during those times. Because Corey's story brought so much back from those eventful, turbulent, troubled times.

And there are scenes here which will just break your heart too, where Canin skillfully shows you the truth in the saying, "sometimes less is more." Try reading the section where Corey comes home from school the first time after his mother has died and watches his father in the kitchen, carefully preparing their simple supper." What will break your heart here are the things that are NOT said. Less is more.

And then there is the lavish party thrown for thousands at the Metarey estate when the Bonwiller campaign is in serious disarray, and, as the party-goers swiftly begin to slip too soon away, the Ray White quintet playing, finally, its bluesy "mournful rendition of 'America the Beautiful'."

Or consider Corey's mature reflections on how family forms, influences and affects us: "... I had the first inkling then of what I know now from experience - that not only are our parents buried cryptically inside each of us, but that we are buried just as cryptically inside each of them, and that we may look in either direction to see the secrets of our children and ourselves."

This kind of quiet, stately wisdom is found througout this book. The kind of stuff that makes you sit back and think, 'Yeah, he's right; that's the way it really is." And at the same time you're just marveling at Canin's skill, at this unusual insight into how people think, how they just are.

There's nothing sensational in the way Ethan Canin writes. But there is a kind of measured, quiet dignity in his diction, in his choice of words, in what he chooses to elucidate - and his choices are always the right ones. I found the same qualities in his earlier book, CARRY ME ACROSS THE WATER. This newer, considerably longer book, digs a little deeper, sheds a little more light on the people and forces that have shaped this country. AMERICA AMERICA indeed. With it, Ethan Canin continues to make the world of American letters a richer, better place. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.
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LibraryThing member Griff
I feel fortunate to have read Ethan Canin's latest novel in the midst of an historic presidential race. It provides a remarkably engaging story of politics (and more) during America's tumultuous early 70s. Through the personal story of Corey Sifter and his relationship to Liam Metarey, a member of
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a fading industrial family, and Senator Henry Bonmiller, a rising political superstar and presidential candidate, Canin simultaneously touches on many aspects of the political and personal.

Canin sets his story in the fictional western New York town of Saline - a town experiencing change as profound as the political landscape of which it has played a part. Henry Bonwiller, the flawed politician whose presidential campaign we follow, provides the basis to wonder whether his campaign represents a new hope of great ideas or a grand form of political pandering. No matter the answer, as Bonwiller eventually falls from grace, one cannot help but believe that the time for great leadership has passed and all that is left is a base form of partisan politics.

America America prompted me to reflect on what may have gone wrong and when with our domestic political process. It also provides a glimmer of hope that leadership, great ideas, and a better world are still possible. Maybe this is the year?
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LibraryThing member novelcommentary
This was an enjoyable read, narrated by Corey Sifter who, like his name implies, sifts through the events of his youth to come to an understanding about them. He is a blue collar son of a hard working plumber, who is lucky enough to be the benefactor of the wealthy Liam Metarey, the town's founder
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and main employer. Liam is a noble man and his character helps Corey to form his own. However his mistakes also determine some of Corey's as well. There are different time periods that are woven together. Corey at 16, then in college and later as the editor of the local paper. This enables the narrator to both reveal plot details and reflect on them. The political basis of the novel centers around Henry Bonwiller, who we are to accept was the front running democratic candidate against Nixon' s re election bid. There is a Ted Kennedy -like accident that becomes the turning point- both in the political campaign and in the decisions made by the characters we come to know.

Overall I enjoyed the story mostly for the insights about a changing country and the observations of a sensible boy who knows he does not quite belong. It was also nice for me to read a 1st person narration from a character who was my age. The events and circumstances of the 70's were an added bonus for me. I would recommend the book and look forward to others by this author.
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LibraryThing member Doondeck
I appreciated how easily the author took us from one time frame to another. An extremely interesting combination of family dynamics, politics, coming of age and journalism.
LibraryThing member Cariola
The premise (or perhaps I should say "premises") of this book had a lot of potential: political corruption and scandal, the role of the press in politics, a teenager's friendship with and admiration for the wealthy man who helps him, his coming to appreciate his own parents when he becomes one
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himself, etc., etc. etc. Perhaps, in fact, the author has taken on a bit too much. I found the novel really slow going, especially the first half in which all these various and interconnected lines needed to be established. With all that finally set up, I expected something a bit more monumental than the rather predictable concluding half offered. The characters were fairly stereotypical (and seemed to come not so much out of the headlines of 1972 as novels of the first half of the 20th century (Dreiser, Fitzgerald, etc.). Canin's writing style is fine, and I had no trouble following the shifting time periods that others have mentioned. But for me, overall, this was a lot of time spent on reading a novel that was just so-so.
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LibraryThing member charlottem
America, America is beautifully written; life as it really is. Some people scheme, some are interesting, some not, some can cope, and some can’t. There isn’t always a spectacular ending, in fact more often than not there isn’t. A very good book
LibraryThing member BCCJillster
Although there were elements I really enjoyed, overall, I was disappointed and frustrated. Canin is obviously a good and talented writer, but too much artifice ruined the effort for me.

Going against the trend, I found the overly used, almost constant foreshadowing annoying. Why all the suspense
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only to reveal an overly familiar story? Leaving one key element unexplained (re the sisters) was also very frustrating.

Sorry, I really wanted to love this one.
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LibraryThing member ellengryphon
This is a story about how a young boy of humble beginnings makes his way in the world among the wealthy when provided opportunities and circumstances both rewarding and threatening. Very good read.
LibraryThing member Dogberryjr
Ethan Canin's America America is the story of a working class boy who, in his role as all purpose helper, becomes an observer of a local wealthy, politically connected family, the Metareys. The tale's trajectory takes the reader along as the protagonist, Corey, is progressively disillusioned by the
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Metareys' idiosyncracies, political ambitions, and unethical choices.

The book's themes deal with the brutality of wealth acquisition and politics and the irony of wealthy politicians advocating populist principles, but in a disappointingly mild voice. Corey is an observer and little else, although he both benefits from and participates in the Metareys' circle, and therefore offers scant critique. Instead, he expresses tepid bemusement at the privileges of the wealthy, surprising given the vast class chasm separating him from the Metareys. And his guilt at assisting—however unwittingly—the Metareys' cover up of the crime of their favorite political aspirant is oddly anemic. They key struggle for Corey is how to reconcile his judgment that the Metareys are not bad people with revelations of their misdeeds.

In the end, Corey marries a Metarey daughter, perhaps signaling that the story is also about the co-option of privilege, or the ambiguity of ethical action. Nonetheless, I finished the book frustrated that even themes of brutality, crime, uncontrolled ambition, and mindless entitlement weren't cast in harsher terms.
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LibraryThing member alpin
This is my first Early Reviewer book and also my first posted review. I requested the book because I loved Canin’s book of short stories (“The Palace Thief”} and because the plot summary was irresistible: politics, scandal and small-town life in the Nixon era, with a working-class protagonist
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entangled with the rich and powerful – all the ingredients of a great read in the hands of a master of character development.

The result is a beautifully written book that perhaps reaches for more than it achieves. The story, told by decent, hard-working Corey Sifter, moves back and forth in time from the present to Corey’s teen-age years when he was witness to events that brought down a senator and all but destroyed the Metareys, the benevolent family of landed gentry that employed most of the town and took Corey under its wing. But despite the skill with which Canin tells the story, I found myself curiously uninvolved – skating along the surface rather than drawn in and caring deeply about the characters. In particular, the Metareys and Senator Bonwiller never came alive; their characters seemed to lack the depth that I admired in “The Palace Thief” and I was unmoved by their flaws and destructive behavior. On the other hand, Canin seemed more comfortable with Corey and his working-class family and neighbors, giving us meticulously observed descriptions of their lives, their work and their losses.

I admired this book but I didn’t love it. Canin is a fine writer but I thought the emotional wallop of his stories was missing here.
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LibraryThing member iammbb
Yet another book which I received as part of LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

This one, I can enthusiastically endorse.

Canin spans early 1970s through post 9/11 America, or more specifically western New York. But not as much the economically depressed western New York of Richard Russo novels
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(although it does play a role), as the wealthy, powerful, politically connected New York State which factors into national presidential elections.

Canin plays out his story in jumps and starts, switching between three periods in the life of our protagonist, Corey Sifter, his high school years, his college years and his present day. As we move between these three spans, Canin parcels out tidbits which in the end allows the protagonist and the reader to fashion a likely solution to the central puzzle of the novel.

Canin is often oblique in his development of the narrative but this refusal to lay it all out for the reader works to emphasize Corey's journey from impressionable young yard boy to powerful newspaper publisher.

Altogether, a gripping, thoroughly enjoyable novel about politics, power, noblesse oblige and tragedy.

From the back cover:

From Ethan Canin, bestselling author of The Palace Thief, comes a stunning novel, set in a small town during the Nixon era and today, about America and family, politics and tragedy, and the impact of fate on a young man’s life.

In the early 1970s, Corey Sifter, the son of working-class parents, becomes a yard boy on the grand estate of the powerful Metarey family. Soon, through the family’s generosity, he is a student at a private boarding school and an aide to the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president of the United States. Before long, Corey finds himself involved with one of the Metarey daughters as well, and he begins to leave behind the world of his upbringing. As the Bonwiller campaign gains momentum, Corey finds himself caught up in a complex web of events in which loyalty, politics, sex, and gratitude conflict with morality, love, and the truth.

America America is a beautiful novel about America as it was and is, a remarkable exploration of how vanity, greatness, and tragedy combine to change history and fate.

About the Author
Ethan Canin is the author of six books of fiction, including the story collections, Emperor of the Air and The Palace Thief, and the novels For Kings and Planets and Carry Me Across the Water. He is on the faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and lives in Iowa, California, and northern Michigan.
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LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Well, it took me quite a while to get into this book (about a hundred pages), but I persevered in a timely fashion since this was an ER book, and ended up enjoying it for the most part nearly despite myself. The story, once told, is a fairly simple one, but the structure is complicated. This in
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itself isn't a turn-off for me; the problem throughout, and looking back, is that there are many times when I feel like the author is toying with the reader. He seems to hold back information not because it makes sense for the story, or because it's convenient, but because he wants to sustain a sense of mystery/suspense. When it comes down to it, the resolve of the "suspense" isn't all that shocking, or surprising. I feel like Canin needed to have more faith that the story was worth telling as it was instead of feeling like he needed to build up a somewhat artificial sense of mystery. This is a pet peeve of mine truthfully, so it did taint the full read for me. Otherwise, the book was interesting and well-written. Time got somewhat confused at a few points because of the jumping structure, but less than I would have expected in a book like this, and overall the characters were clear and well-developed. My only other criticism is that I feel the title is a bit presumptious, and the book is trying a bit too hard to be literary instead of simply telling a worthwhile story well.

I suppose in the end, I felt satisfied by the book, certainly enough so that I'm curious about Canin's other work. However, I did find it very dull at points, and the dialogue sometimes felt stilted. If this had not been an ER book, I have a feeling that I would have taken months to read it instead of weeks, and so found the names and jumps in time more confusing than they occasionally were. In the end, the more I look back at the read, the more I see many points when Canin made it much more complicated and needlessly mysterious than the story called for, which I admit makes me somewhat skeptical of looking at his other works, or ever coming back to this one.
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LibraryThing member kurvanas
I have to agree with the other reviews posted here. This is an oddly passive book. The writing is fine. But this book suffers from a strange distance and flatness. I suppose I could be very kind and say it is simply a quiet, reflective work. But it should be so much more. It has immense potential
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it fails to reach and opportunities it does not take. I do not know why. There is no reason why this should not be a major work, a la Saul Bellow. Canin has immense talent, but maybe he had a failure of nerve. As he writes in the book: "I had to agree with Liam Metarey: it was all wrong."

At any rate, this book has all the elements to bake something wonderful, but failed to rise to the occassion. Better luck next time.
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LibraryThing member bhowell
This is a great novel and I gave it a five because not only is it a brilliant story, I enjoyed it so much. I could not put it down. While the main characters including the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, are fictional, the story is linked to very real political events and people in the
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Nixon era. It is also an intimate story of Corey Sifter, a teenager in the early 70's, his family and the people of the small, mostly blue collar, community of Saline in New York. Saline however has its aristocrats, the wealthy and powerful Metarey family, a famous Democratic family who support and promote Senator Bonwiller. In their somewhat sordid beginnings (the grandfather was a somewhat heartless robber baron of mining and timber) and personal tragedy you will see a comparison to the Kennedy family but not too much. This is a real family, not a caricature. This author excels at character development and it is proper character development which sweeps you into the story and makes you care about and understand the actions of its characters. This is the true heart of a great novel.
We know that Senator Bonwiller will not win the presidency nor even acheive the nomination of the Democratic party because this story is tied to real events and we know that George McGovern won the nomination and Nixon was re-elected with a landslide in 1973. So there is no mystery there but there is mystery and a dark side to this story. Corey played a part in the dark secret but he doesn't truly understand it until much later in his life. The story is told mostly through Corey's eyes, as a teenager working as a handyman , waiter, driver, fixer-upper on the magnificent Metarey estate, as a college student returning to work weekends at the Metary estate in the frantic campaign to secure the nomination for the Democratic party for Senator Bonwiller, and later as a middle-aged newspaper publisher and editor in the same small community. The highs and the lows of a political campaign are there in glorious detail and today the enemy is the other candidates and tomorrow it is the sitting president, Richard Nixon, who is, for example found to be the source of a damaging rumour.
This is the story of a by gone era in American politics, when Democrats stood up and fought for working people, for peace, and for civil rights. Could the pride of American industry ever have been saved so that people like Corey's father could live a life of hard work but security and pride? But this is only something to ponder, the attraction here is the story. The lessons are universal, does it matter about personal flaws or morality when a politician accomplishes important things for his or her country? How do we judge such a person? How far should personal loyalties go? Corey faces these very issues and only in middle age does he really reflect on the facts (and thereby tell us the story), face what happened and remain comfortable with the life he has chosen.
I did notice that a number of other reviewers commented that the book was too long and that the story continued even after we knew the answers to the secrets and the dramatic events have ocurred. A quick shutdown may have been too abrupt given the more leisurely tone of the book and the readers complete involvement with these characters. I didn't mind it at all.
An absolutely wonderful read.
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LibraryThing member lriley
America America is my first book by Ethan Canin. I would like to thank both LT and Random House for sending me a free early reviewers copy.

The novel is narrated by a middle-aged newspaper publisher--Corey Sifter and looks back into the past when as a teenage son of working class parents he is hired
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to work on a huge estate owned by the son of an early 20th century robber baron. The Metarey family now headed by Liam Metarey--of Scots heritage own a vast estate in the western part of New York state. Liam is a committed democrat--a man on a mission to get his US Senator Henry Bonwiller elected President of the United States--his main intention being to end the Viet Nam War. Bonwiller of course is a fictional character--maybe a conglomerate of other real political figures circa 1972. He is one of the democratic candidates running against Richard Nixon who is running for his second term. Like politicians of all stripes--including Nixon--Bonwiller is deeply flawed.

The story also very much revolves around Corey Sifter's working class father and mother juxtaposed against the Metarey family (besides Liam) his airplane obsessed wife June, their son Andrew (an army volunteer doing a stint in Vietnam) and their two daughters Christian (with whom Corey has a flirtation) and rebellious Clara (who will later become Corey's wife).

Liam Metarey is impressed by Corey's dad Granger who is a real handyman and likewise impressed by Corey himself who thrives the more work he's given. Over one summer he takes young Corey under his wing giving him more and more responsibility around his farm. His daughters both seem to vie for his attention although it is the older and calmer Christian who gets most of the attention whereas has to create events to get the same. While this is going on Liam and Henry are also preparing their run--Corey sometimes driving the Senator around town becoming involved peripherally on the course of national events. As the summer winds down Corey is given an opportunity by the Metarey family to move away some hundred miles to the same prep school that Liam attended. Corey's mother pushes him to this opportunity. He does not know that she is critically ill. Corey returns on weekends continuing to help the Metarey family and Sen. Bonwiller. As it happens the Senator is having an affair and as it happens disaster strikes leading to death--leading to a coverup that just won't stay covered. There are allusions to that even throughout from the very first pages and I'd rather not go into detail though it bears a similarity to a very famous scandal.

The book also has a present setting. Corey as a small town independent newspaper publisher. His father Granger living in an old folks home after suffering a stroke but still present in mind and more than less functioning in body. A young intern news reporter from a trailer park--Trieste--rebellious, impish but also very likeable. The novel contrasting the past with the present not only as the march of evolution but also in the realm of politics. Politics is a main ingredient here. It is what drives the action throughout. Bonwiller's candidacy gets so very tantalizingly close but it is something that is not to be as he's forced out and Nixon will go on to sweep McGovern only to become a victim of his own dirty tactics later on during Watergate.

There is a lot to this book to like. There have not been all that many interesting american novels so devoted to american politics as this one. Edwin O'Connor's 'The last hurrah' or Gore Vidal's 'Linclon' or 'Washington D. C. ' spring to mind. Told in flashback America America at times teeters on the edge of being a little glib, a little facile. Canin is able to hold things together for the most part--even as a middle aged Corey looks back on a much more innocent idol struck younger Corey living out an idyllic summer that he never quite is able to understand. At times I think the young Corey might not have been the perfect narrator of this story--that maybe even the younger rebellious Clara who seems much more intuitive might have been a better candidate for that job.

All in all though it is a very good book. It is interesting personally for me to look at an age of my own political innocence as I would have been around the same age as Corey. Although I think it is flawed in places it is not by any means mortally so. What is more if nothing else it is an entertaining read--I would call it even a page turner--a nice snapshot of the world of politics in its time.
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LibraryThing member JGoto
Ethan Canin’s America, America is a coming of age story that incorporates politics, tragedy, and the moral limits of loyalty. The narrator is Cory Sifter, son of a blue collar worker, who is befriended by a wealthy family that is heavily embroiled in the politics of the day. Early on, Cory
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becomes involved in the campaign of Senator Henry Bonwiller, who is trying to get the Democratic presidential nomination and run against Richard Nixon in the 1972 race. Canin constantly shifts the setting between those campaign years of the early 70’s, Cory’s college years in the mid-seventies, and his musings as a newspaper journalist thirty odd years later.

The device of shifting the narration in time works well and enables Canin to build suspense and foreshadow the tragedy that will destroy the Bonwiller campaign. The plot is engaging and the characters interestingly portrayed. My only complaint about the book is that is seems to go on longer than necessary. During the last fifth of the novel, I found myself wishing it would end already. Canin’s points had been made and the plot satisfactorily resolved long before the final page of the book. Still, Canin’s writing style is appealing and I will seek out his other novels.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
Perhaps the whole point of this book is that no-one can know the truth at the bottom of a scandal except the people involved, but I think that Canin makes this point in an unnecessarily confusing way. The time frame shifts from the present (more or less) to various points in Corey Sifter's
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association with the Metarey's, the wealthy family in town, who become his patron, sending him to private school and then helping to pay his college tuition. He is telling the story to his would-be protegee, an intern at his newspaper who reminds him in many ways of himself at that age.

The story revolves around the presidential campaign of the local liberal senator, Henry Bonwiller. Although the story is set in the 1972 election and in upstate New York rather than Massachusetts, the story is superficially that of Edward Kennedy. There is an affair, a car accident, a dead mistress. Then there is a cover-up, or a misdirection of some kind. But the truth of what actually happened is shrouded from the reader.

This story is told mainly by Sifter, who, although an insider in both the Metarey family and the Bonwiller campaign, is largely kept ignorant of the backroom politicking. The bulk of the story is told in his first-person narrative, and we know only what he knows. Occasionally the narrative shifts to the perspective of the dead mistress, but she is equally ignorant, and what actually happens doesn't become any clearer when told from her point of view. This is an effective, but frustrating technique. I wanted to know what happened!

For all that, though, this is a good book. It's well-written, and the story itself is compelling. It tells of a way of life that changes from one generation to the next and of the influence that one family can have on a whole town.
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LibraryThing member CEP
[America, America] is a wonderful book about a weatlhy family that is the economic engine of a small upstate NY town, a Senator running for the presidential nomination, a jounalist and his coming-of-age, and the Senator's girlfriend. Canin tells the story through a series of seamless shifts in time
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from the present to past events. The characters are well-drawn; you learn just enough about each of them to see their hubris. Each approaches power in his own way and must grapple with the consequences of his actions. The overarching story of a working-class town in a bucolic setting gradually being razed for shopping malls ties the story together.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and was surprised to find myself in sympathy with the town itself and the change it was undergoing. I will be reading more Ethan Canin.
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LibraryThing member Ellouise
A powerful, lovely, fascinating book of Corey who lives near the very wealthy Materey family. The writing is smooth. Character development is supurb. I have always loved Canin's books


Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2010)




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