Upstate - James Wood

Staff Pick

Like John Banville’s graceful, elegant fictions, Wood’s second novel is less about action than it is about character and language. The plot is spare:  Alan Querry, a British developer, travels to the U.S. to see his expat daughter, Vanessa, a philosophy professor at Skidmore. He first joins his younger daughter, Helen, a Sony executive, in New York, and the two travel to Saratoga Springs for the weekend. Told mostly from Alan’s point of view, the narrative is a fluid weave of his memories, plans, questions, complaints about the cold, hopes, wry humor, and continual comparisons of British and American ways. Wood has created one of the most observant characters in recent fiction, and through Alan’s bemused sensibility he shows us everything from the elderly passengers at the airport who “popped into Gucci and Prada for preflight necessities” to a Saratoga Springs hotel so encrusted with Victoriana that “the effect was archival, as if color were trying to turn itself into sepia and earn itself a caption: ‘Olde Saratoga.’” But while Alan’s social critiques are sharp, he’s on less certain ground with psychology. He often feels he’s said not quite the right thing, or not quite understood the situation. Are his daughters happy? Has Vanessa suffered a recurrence of the depression that tormented her when she was growing up? Alan is a devoted, if distant, father (Vanessa remembers him looking at her “not coldly but with efficient neglect” when she went to his office as a child) capable of recalling moments from his daughters’ childhoods in poignant detail, yet also apt to drift from their concerns into diatribes about his business frustrations. As his rich stream of interior monologues shows, navigating the ever-shifting currents of family life is difficult, rewarding, and demands every bit of intellectual and emotional energy he can muster.

Upstate: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780374279530
Availability: In Stock—Click for Locations
Published: Farrar, Straus and Giroux - June 5th, 2018

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