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Charles Baxter:
The Feast of Love
Charles Baxter
  The Feast of Love  
Charles Baxter    
interview

an excerpt



  Charles Baxter has gained a reputation as a writer's writer with novels such as Believers and story collections like Through the Safety Net and Harmony of the World. He teaches in the MFA program at the University of Michigan and, like the characters in his latest novel The Feast of Love, he lives in Ann Arbor. In fact, he is a character in his latest novel. He is Charlie Baxter, an insomniac writer who suffers from identity lapses. The Feast of Love is portioned into sections called "Beginnings," "Preludes," "Middles," "Ends," and "Postludes." "Preludes" opens with his waking in a fright late one night not knowing who he is, only that he is. He recognizes his wife lying next to him and that she knows him. Baxter imbues this scene with gravity, levity, warmth, intimacy and the illusoriness of the assumption that we possess our lives, our selves. As he heads out of the house to take a walk, he notes a mirror on the wall that "has lost one of its dimensions." "You can't see into it now, just past it." That could be a reflection of Baxter, himself. Although many of the characters talk directly to him in this novel as they refute some aspects of their story and refine others, our gaze goes past the author lighting, instead, upon the people alive within his pages.

On his walk, Baxter runs into his neighbor Bradley, a managing partner of Jitters, a coffee shop in the mall, walking his dog Bradley, otherwise known as Junior. Bradley suggests that Baxter listen to a few of his stories about love and write a novel of them. He is, after all, an expert on the subject having been divorced twice. And by Chapter Two, we enter the novel as Bradley and company would have it. We are introduced to two ex-wives, Kathryn and Diana; Diana's eventual husband David; Chloé (pronounced chlo-ay) and Oscar, fierce lovers and employees at Jitters; and his next door neighbors--Harry, a university professor of philosophy and his wife Esther, a biochemist--who "feed two goldfish named Julius and Ethel. They must live."

The Feast of Love is inspired, in part, by Kierkegaard's belief that that "everybody intuits what love is, and yet it cannot be spoken of directly. Or distinctly. It falls into the category of the unknown, where plain speech is inadequate to the obscurity of the subject." Baxter's characters are drawn with a precision that is warmed by the richness, depth, humor and affection that he layers in to render their lives true. They embody the transformative power of love not by turning from asses into paramours as in A Midsummer Night's Dream, but as ordinary people plucked from anonymity and made exceptional by feats of love.

In this feature, you will find an interview with Charles Baxter and an excerpt from The Feast of Love.
 
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