Blue River

Canin, Ethan. Blue River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.

Reason read: Iowa became a state in December. Ethan Canin is a member of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.

Author fact: Canin is also the author of best selling novel, Emperor of the Sun, which is not on my challenge list. I did, however, finish Palace Thief ten years ago to the day.

Edward and Lawrence are brothers born six years apart. Edward is the younger, smarter, and more successful brother who married the very beautiful Elizabeth and together, they have a smart son. The Edward and his family live in a huge house in a great neighborhood. They have the perfect life thanks to Edward’s successful career as an ophthalmologist. Lawrence, on the other hand, was always the tough trouble maker; always mysterious, violent, and angry. While the entire story is told from the perspective of Edward, his narrative changes a third of the way through. He talks about his older brother until Lawrence comes to visit. Dressed in rags and looking like a homeless man, Lawrence’s arrival after ten years of silence is so completely unexpected and out of the blue Edward doesn’t recognize him. The brothers have been estranged to the point of strangling the relationship. This short reunion rattles loose memories for Edward. He spends the rest of the book talking to Lawrence, going back in time to relive their tumultuous childhood. The reader is left wondering, who is the traitor, who has the bigger sense of guilt?

Book trivia: the title comes from where the book takes place (in memories) – Blue River, Wisconsin. Current day is Santa Rosa, California.

Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about Blue River; just that Canin is worth reading (as a distinguished MFA alum from the University of Iowa).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107), and again in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Oh Brother” (p 180).


Palace Thief

Canin, Ethan. The Palace Thief: Stories. New York: Random House, 1994.

What can I say about The Palace Thief that hasn’t been said before? The writing is brilliant. Being only 202 pages long I burned through it in a matter of days. The Palace Thief is comprised of four short stories, Accountant, Batorsag and Szerelem, City of Broken Hearts and The Palace Thief. Each story centers around a main character who is always male, always a little egocentric, always misguided, and always more than a little lonely and misunderstood. Canin’s style is to give you a peep show sampling of these characters and the lives try to lead. As the reader you are allowed only a negotiated proximity to what really makes each man tick. It’s teasing and tantalizing and because the stories are that good you find yourself forgiving Mr. Canin for this.
I don’t think this is a spoiler of any sort to question if Canin speaks Hungarian on a regular basis.

Favorite line: From City of Broken Hearts: “It was just that Wilson could never figure out when it was all right to ask” (p 112). Wilson is a man too wrapped up in his own selfishness and vanity to understand his philanthropic son. This line resonated with me because I know we have all had family members we want to grill but we never seem to figure out when is the best time (if ever).

Author Fact: Ethan Andrew Canin has no shortage of occupations. When he isn’t writing he is teaching…or practicing medicine. Biographies claim he has a BA in English or a BA in Engineering from Stanford (hey, both degrees start with ‘eng’).

Book Trivia: Two of the short stories were made into movies. Batorsag and Szerelem was made into a movie called ‘Beautiful Ohio’ in 2006 and the title story, Palace Thief was made into a movie called “The Emperor’s Club” in 2002. I have yet to see either one.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107).