Summary and book reviews of America America by Ethan Canin

America America

A Novel

By Ethan Canin

America America

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About this Book

Book Summary

In the early 1970s, Corey Sifter, the son of working-class parents, becomes a yard boy on the grand estate of the powerful Metarey family. Soon, through the family’s generosity, he is a student at a private boarding school and an aide to the great New York senator Henry Bonwiller, who is running for president of the United States. Before long, Corey finds himself involved with one of the Metarey daughters as well, and he begins to leave behind the world of his upbringing. As the Bonwiller campaign gains momentum, Corey finds himself caught up in a complex web of events in which loyalty, politics, sex, and gratitude conflict with morality, love, and the truth. America America is a beautiful novel about America as it was and is, a remarkable exploration of how vanity, greatness, and tragedy combine to change history and fate.

From Chapter I

2006

When you’ve been involved in something like this, no matter how long ago it happened, no matter how long it’s been absent from the news, you’re fated, nonetheless, to always search it out. To be on alert for it, somehow, every day of your life. For the small item at the back of the newspaper. For the stranger at the cocktail party or the unfamiliar letter in the mailbox. For the reckoning pause on the other end of the phone line. For the dreadful reappearance of something that, in all likelihood, is never going to return.

I wouldn’t have thought, in fact, that I would be the one to bring it back now, after all this time. That I would be the one to finally try to explain it. What I know of it, at least, even if that’s only a part. I can only guess at the other parts. But I’ve been guessing at them for half my life now, and I think I’ve made some sense of it.

Honestly I don’t know what will come of this—who ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. This novel makes many assertions about the American political landscape in the early 1970s. What are some of those assertions? In what ways have American politics changed since then? And how does Henry Bonwiller compare to today's politicians, in terms of his political demeanor and beliefs as well as in his sense of both personal and public morality? 
  2. Structurally, the novel is braided from several strands – the political story, the personal story, the story about economic class and social station, and the story of the town itself. Which of these stories, in your opinion, provides the novel's bulwark? How does each contribute to the novel's themes? 
  3. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

America America is a great read but a worrisome think, if I may coin a phrase. Ethan Canin writes in the storytelling tradition of Richard Russo: a slow, detailed, fully realized, and gratifying portrait of small-town America. Yet his uncritical, almost adoring tale of wealth and power bothered me, and I wondered why this novel is being promoted so heavily at this moment in time ....

The novel is filled with graceful moments .... but falls short in its delineation of its characters. With his narrator and protagonist, Canin has written himself into a bind. On the one hand, Corey Sifter must be Everyman ....On the other hand, Corey must himself be extraordinary in order to justify his inclusion in the family and his presence at nearly every important moment in their lives. Too often, Canin resorts to ham-handed ways of conveying character ....   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
The Independent - James Urquhart

America, America is a big, exhilarating novel in many ways, but it's the primacy of emotion dominating the personal sphere that holds most interest. By late middle age, Corey's philosophical engagement with his comfortable surroundings strongly resembles the buoyant introspections of Frank Bascombe, the realtor negotiating smalltown American life in Richard Ford's epic Sportswriter trilogy.

Publishers Weekly

Canin gives us a poisoned lullaby of the Nixon era.

Kirkus Reviews

The rhythms of a great estate, and the dynamics of a landowning family, are captured with Tolstoyan exactitude. It's the journey, not the arrival, that matters, and the journey is an enthralling one.

Los Angeles Times

A big, ambitious, old-fashioned, quintessentially American novel about politics, power, ambition, class, ethics and loyalty… Bravo to Canin for tackling the American Dream, which we're forever running off the road and then trying to resuscitate.

Library Journal

This saga of politics and family is a superb achievement; Canin..interleaves past and present to create a classical tragedy from the very first page.

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

There are some wonderful, deeply affecting moments here ... but they are unfortunately submerged in a bloated, maladroit narrative that relies on clumsily withheld secrets for suspense and that encumbers the story of Corey's coming-of-age with ponderous and unconvincing meditations on matters like noblesse oblige, the responsibilities of privilege and working-class resentment of the rich.

Entertainment Weekly - Tina Jordan

The beginning of June heralds the arrival of the fat summer read, meant for the porch, the hammock, the beach. Ethan Canin's America America is just such a book, the satisfying, compulsively readable saga of a northeastern coal dynasty. B+

Washington Post

We’ve waited a long time for a worthy successor to Robert Penn Warren’s All the King's Men, and it couldn't have arrived at a more auspicious moment.

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Beyond the Book

The 1972 Democratic Nomination
Senator Henry Bonwiller, the presidential candidate to whom Liam Metarey acts as closest advisor, is fictional, but the rest of the details of the 1972 Democratic nomination battle are true.

The field was crowded with men—and two women—vying to challenge President Nixon's re-election effort. Nixon was seen as vulnerable because of the abysmal state of the Vietnam War. Senator Ed Muskie from Maine was the party establishment's choice, but his campaign fizzled when a supposedly forged letter to the Manchester Union Leader claimed that he was prejudiced against Americans of French-Canadian descent. Muskie refuted the charges in what has since become known as "the crying speech." ...

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