I finished the new novel by Andre Dubus III over a week ago, and I've spent many of those days trying to figure out exactly how I feel about it. I was ridiculously eager to read it after seeing so many glowing reviews, most notably Stephen King devoting an entire column for his monthly Entertainment Weekly gig to the book. Also, everyone whose opinion on books I trust, most notably nomadreaderboy, adored House of Sand and Fog, which sits on my seemingly insurmountable "Books I Want to Read List." The premise of The Garden of Last Days grabbed me immediately. It's a story of the days leading up to September 11th, and it takes place mostly in the strip club some the hijackers frequented. I find the tension between the hijackers religious beliefs and hatred of the U.S. and their frequenting of tawdry strip clubs fascinating.
It's an ambitious subject, and I enjoyed the cast of characters Dubus employed to tell the story. Ultimately, I didn't buy his insight into all of the characters. The story has multiple narrators: a hijacker, a stripper, her 3-year-old daughter, a security guard, a strip club patron (and his wife and mother), and the stripper's landlord/baby-sitter. It's a long novel; it's well over 500 pages. For such a long novel, not much happens. The action takes a long time to unfold because the reader sees the events happen through so many sets of eyes. The novel began as a short story, and I think it would be better as one. The idea of the book is better than the book itself. A great short story can capture a seemingly insurmountable amount of activity poetically. Dubus let the book become bigger than the idea. What should be an intelligent, in depth look at a fascinating subject is ultimately tame and a little dull. It's not a bad book, but it didn't grab me. I thought of abandoning the book, but I did care enough about some of the characters to finish it. After a week of pondering, which certainly is a testament to the depth of the idea of the book, I'm still not sure if I'm glad I read it. I'm not sure if I would recommend it to others. I still seem stuck on the length; it's bloated.
In the end, I enjoyed it enough to recommend it because I want someone else I know to talk about it with. The book isn't as good as the idea behind the book, but that idea is brilliant enough to make it worthwhile. I still want to read the short story version.
Rating: 3 stars (liked it)