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Soul Thief Paperback – 10 February 2009
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- Paperback : 210 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400034406
- ISBN-10 : 9781400034406
- Dimensions : 13.46 x 1.27 x 20.32 cm
- Publisher : Vintage; Reprint edition (10 February 2009)
- ASIN : 140003440X
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
"Gloriously done. . . . It's like watching fire slowly travel up a curtain, waiting for the moment the whole cloth will be engulfed."
--The New York Times
"A narrative that pierces the air like an arrow in flight, a thing of splendid grace that kills. Before you get under the covers and commence reading, a word of caution. Lock your doors . . . a soul thief is making his rounds."
--The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Examines love and lust and the various permutations and cries in between. . . . Few American writers handle those compelling subjects with a more sure touch or more worthy insight."
"Delicious.... Entirely original.... The Soul Thief is so craftily constructed that to appreciate how liberally Baxter plants creepy hints of what's to come a reader really should savor this book twice."
--The Washington Post Book World
"With a prose style lyrical, accessible and warmly humorous, Charles Baxter has been quietly building a reputation as one of America's favorite literary authors . . .His newest novel teems with the same good-natured empathy and wry humor that imbues his earlier works. . . it surely will delight."
--St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Shrewd and mischievous"
"Deliciously creepy and full of hidden meaning"
--Washington Post (Media Mix)
"A subtle, engaging novel"
"Baxter has a great, registering eye for the real pleasures and attritions of life"
"Though a much trickier and more cerebral book than his previous novels, this is a dandy psychological thriller in which proliferating mirrors will make your head spin. Baxter has given us the writer's version of that famous M.C. Escher print in which one hand is drawing the other."
--Minneapolis Star Tribune
Very few writers excel at both novels and short stories, but Charles Baxter is one of the gifted few who have. From the start of his career, his accomplishments in each have been clear and stunning... His work is subtly political and emotionally precise, whether registering the moods and faces of strangers or the complex of fond and hateful ways ordinary Americans converse.
--Award of Merit, American Academy of Arts and Letters
About the Author
Charles Baxter is the author of the novels The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the story collections Gryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, and Harmony of the World. The stories "Bravery" and "Charity," which appear in There's Something I Want You to Do, were included in Best American Short Stories. Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.
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"He performed intellectual surgery using hairsplitting distinctions. At the age of nineteen, during spring break, he took up strolling through Prospect Park with a walking stick and a fedora. Even the pigeons stared at him. Not for him the beaches of Florida, or nudity in its physical form, or the vulgarity of job. He did not often change clothes, preferring to wear the same shirt until it had become ostentatiously threadbare. He carried around the old-fashioned odor of bohemia. He was homely. His teachers feared him. Sometimes, while thinking, he appeared to daven like an Orthodox Jew. He was adept at both classical and popular cultures..."
So, THE SOUL THIEF does have some finely drawn characters. This quality will offer great pleasure to any reader, but especially to those who read Nathaniel's description of his two sons. With this subject, Baxter really brings his characters to life, almost the way Fitzgerald poeticizes the wealthy in The Great Gatsby . But in this novel, Baxter is the poet of the humdrum and the ordinary relationship, not Jazz Age fortunes.
Nonetheless, a reader does have to ask: Can characters alone carry a novel? In this case, I'd say the answer is "almost", since THE SOUL THIEF holds together better on analysis than it does as a reading experience. Here, it's hard to explain this "almost" verdict without spoilers. So let me just say that the protagonist, Nathaniel, sometimes reacts to the events of this novel as if not a fully real character. In the end, Baxter explains why this is so. Still, this quality makes THE SOUL THIEF read like a flawed novel, where the protagonist's behavior doesn't always seem emotionally true.
I'd like to make a few more observations. Nathaniel's dislike of LA seemed to go on for its own sake. The stuff about the sister reading Nathaniel out of his crisis and Coolberg creating a narrative for his characters--this seemed like Professor Baxter speaking, not Nathaniel. I'd reformat Part Two. And hasn't the passage of time made the emotional force of the ending a bit stale?
Regardless, this is a good book, beautifully written in spots, and dead-on accurate in its portrayal of grad student life in the early seventies, as well as the crises and satisfactions of a loving and ordinary suburban family. Yes, Baxter is a pleasure to read. But in THE SOUL THIEF, the ending is, well, too clever.
Linda C. Wright
Author, One Clown Shot
One Clown Short
THE SOUL THIEF is far more beautiful and complex than your average grid-box of numbers, although its quiet mystery isn't nearly as difficult to suss out. Our ciphers, in this case, involve a college student named Nathaniel Mason, who thinks he's falling in love, and a cryptic character named Jerome Coolberg, who seems to be steadily appropriating Nathan's life and past as his own. Muddled by love's self-occluding fog and Coolberg's mind games, Nathaniel begins to wonder who he is anymore. Who anyone is.
It's rare to find a book that's this smart without being snobby, and even rarer to find a story that is told with this kind of hushed faith in its readers. The details tell a tale all on their own; everything from buttered bread to Beach Boys lyrics is infused with an import that (if you're looking for it) is immensely satisfying without being either intrusive or dismissable. I wonder how many readers in the world will feel compelled to actually do the intellectual grunt work suggested by the prose (what else are those B.A.s in Literature for?), but I'm also impressed that Baxter made sure such effort isn't entirely necessary to simply enjoy the book.
Because the totems tip-toe through a world that sings in its own dark, alienating way, the lines are content simply to be read, a sort of tribute to the lost art of prose. It's a book that has been crafted cunningly, if not lovingly. I say that because, in spite of the story's heady detail, the characters and the plot-line they trace are as sure as numbers themselves. After all, I say "two," and you know what that means, but not necessarily what it represents. Likewise, Coolberg, Mason, and the others in the book are all singularly themselves -- they are the unchanging numbers that help you figure out the rest of the book's many blanks -- but they are just single digits, locked in their own places on the grid.
The grace of mathematics is not up for dispute; I believe it was Pythagoras who said that numbers rule the universe. If the multi-faceted complexities behind those ten digits guide the physical world (and exercise the brains of millions of Sudoku-lovers everywhere), then Baxter is saying that something far more profound and powerful guides the heart. His point is made eloquently and without pompous fanfare. The only unfortunate thing is that Baxter's grid, as beautifully rendered as it is, is still populated by people who are as soulless as one's and zero's. The title of the book is quite apt; even if the novel (I'd really call it a novella) is one of the smartest and most charming I've read in a while, it is still missing a heart.
-Washington Post (Media Mix)
That's a quote taken from one of the reviews from the Washington Post that's shown here at Amazon. Well, the story was creepy and had so much promise, but what was the hidden meaning, or better yet, who was telling this story and what was up with that ending? In the first part of this book, the characters were developed well, but then fell flat in the second half, leaving me with the feeling "who cares?"
I read this short book twice trying to see if I missed something, and I still couldn't figure out who was telling the story or where all these hidden meanings were. Don't believe the hype like I did. If you really want to read this book, save your money and check it out from the library.