Excerpt from America America by Ethan Canin, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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America America

A Novel

by Ethan Canin

America America
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2008, 480 pages
    May 2009, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Print Excerpt

“It is, as a matter of fact.”

“My father says it, too.” She took a sip of water. “But my mother doesn’t agree. She thinks powerful men have to put them on faster.”

“Trieste,” I said. “Senator Bonwiller was important in my life. I’m going to want to spend some time alone here today.”

“I understand, sir. You see anybody in particular I’m supposed to recognize?”

“How about the governor?” I answered, pointing into the crowd. “That’s a good start. And a whole lot of congressmen. But you’re going to have to snoop around a bit on your own, Trieste. Find someone to ask. That’s one of the things reporters do. More reliable than how big the people look.”

“Got it. This water is nice and cold, sir, isn’t it? Wakes you up.” She looked at me. “But I should leave you alone now, shouldn’t I?”

“Thanks, Trieste. That would be nice.” “And by the way,” I said. “Look around. Everyone else is in a suit or a dark dress. This is a senator’s funeral.”

“I know,” she said, moving off toward the crowd, “but this way, at least you can spot me.”

All his life, Henry Bonwiller had made powerful friends and powerful enemies, and as I made my own way into the gathering I saw that this is what the mourners were composed of now: a mix of both equally, united not by their fondness for the man or by their loathing for him, so much as by the fact that they all must have shared strong memories of what the country had been in the Senator’s time, and also by the evident fact that life had now passed them all by. I’ve already mentioned the canes and the wheelchairs. When I was a boy I once heard Senator Bonwiller say that he liked his enemies best because he never had to doubt their sincerity; but walking through the crowd I wanted to tell him that maybe in the end that had been a misjudgment, too. The men and women who fought him—the ones who tried to pull him down with their editorials and their letters and their cocktail party whispers—they were here right alongside the ones who’d sent him Christmas gifts every year and checks every campaign, and they all looked equally affected by his passing. Somehow I sensed they’d all forgiven him. That they’d all forgiven themselves, too—now that the tumble was over.

But walking through the crowd I also saw that Trieste, who’s been on earth not even as long as my youngest daughter, was exactly right: the men I recognized, the ones still in the thick of things, were just as she said—bigger than life. The senators and the governors, and even the members of the state House. There was something that still shone in them. Some light they cast that enlarged them for everyone around.

Dirk Bonwiller, the Senator’s son, was making his way through the crowd. He’d spoken the eulogy that morning at St. Anne’s, and it had only taken me a minute to realize that sometime soon he was going to run for office himself. As an orator he was as practiced as his old man—the same drawn pauses, the same basso whispers, the same poetic repetitions of the phrases—yet I must say that although the object of his eulogy had been the greatest liberal member of the United States Congress since Sam Rayburn and a defender of all the causes that poor people and working people and unions have ever embraced—I must say, you could easily have forgotten that he was also the speaker’s father. There were policy points in Dirk Bonwiller’s eulogy—three or four of them. That’s how that family is.

Dirk is a handsome man in the same way his father was, too, a body of stature and an oversized, deeply expressive face that looks already lit for TV. Even now, after the homily and the prayer and the symbolic spadeful of dirt on the grave, that singular visage was already doing its work as it moved above the dark-hatted thicket of mourners. I used to be able to pick out Henry Bonwiller the same way, the shimmering features passing above the crowd like a bishop’s miter above the congregation.

Excerpted from America America by Ethan Canin Copyright © 2008 by Ethan Canin. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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