Excerpt: Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic

Adam Haslett's literary debut was a short story collection entitled You are not a stranger here (2003).

Considering this was a collection of stories which deals mostly with the 'mentally ill, closeted homosexuals, boys discovering their sexuality, and men who have never come to terms with it' (no doubt Haslett has read his share of Denis Cooper short stories), saying it was a success is saying a lot (the book was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award and the 2003 Pulitzer Prize and spent some time on The New York Times Best Seller list. It was also named one of the five best books of the year by Time, and to top it off Haslett was declared New York Magazine's writer of the year).

So much for institutional reception and public acclaim.

Haslett has used the time since 2003, the year he graduated from Yale Law school, to write Union Atlanticreleased earlier this year, a "fictionalised retrospective of the economic climate in 2002", post 9/11 (The Twin towers), pre september 2008 (The economic fall)...

For the average excerpt reader, Haslett's vantage point as a short story writer can only be beneficial: writers who know their short stories usually excel in the way they build the chapters of their novels; and indeed, Haslett provides very readable and plot-wholesome excerpts (if you're too lazy to read the excerpts, you can always watch the Amazon trailer here, though i don't really see how a 2 minute video is going to make you read a 300 page book you're reluctant to go through...)

The first excerptJuly 1988, is set in Iraq, during the first Gulf War, where Doug Fanning is in charge of air defense on the Vincennes, one of the US navy's most important guide missiles cruisers, a ship which was involved in the shooting-down of an Iranian commercial air-flight, killing all 290 civilian passengers on board. 

Doug is a part of the 'erroneous' team of soldiers who sent the innocent Iranians to their death, but he is also, in a way, described as a bystander, a sort of ghost, a commentator on all things occurring around him as well as, reluctantly, a part of them. 

More than anything he is anxious for his 3 year period of duty to end, and is mentally preparing himself for the life-to-come, back in the States, "figuring in his head how long it would take for the letters he'd mailed in Manila to make their way into the offices of the brokerages and the banks." 

This excerpt is taken from the book's epilogue which, read outside the book's super-structure (single-chapters form), could be read as a sort of 'warning'; an explanation for 'the fall', as financial analysts and cultural critics will call the September 2008 stocks chute.

Life doesn't wait too long to move on and we're quickly in excerpt two, taken from the second chapter of Union Atlantic, circa 2002 in Finden, Massachusetts, where Fanning's neighbor, Charlotte Graves (an homage to Tom Wolfe's Charlotte Simmons? More on the similarities between Haslett's and Wolfe's characters and plots in my other blog, Hebrew readers invited..), an 'anti-modernist' in essence (if modernism be SUV's, mansion houses and shopping malls), is scheming to bring Fanning's monstrosity of a house down (Fanning built his 'Greek Revival château' on top of a hill laden with trees Graves's grandfather had donated to the town).

The two foes, Graves and Fanning, can be described as specimens of the 'old' and 'new' America. The 'old' being hard working, family values, high moral and opposition to change, and the new - opportunism, self indulgence, individuality and hedonistic self-pleasuring). 

It doesn't look like these two ends are going to meet.

But to make sure I'm right you're going to have to read the whole book..

VERDICT: BUY IT (I know I already did...)

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