Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Soul Thief, by Charles Baxter: Review

by Nathan Bergstedt

The Soul Thief, the latest book by Minneapolis based author, Charles Baxter, is at the same time a mystery novel and a post-modern piece of introspective literature. The story focuses on Nathaniel Mason, and his life as a graduate student and an instance 30 years later that brings him back to confront his past.

Unlike a true mystery/thriller, the story lacks much in situational propulsion, driving the story forward until you’re on the edge of your seat, dying to find out what happens next. But this is more than made up for with unique characters who, due to their contradictions to each other, keep the story flowing, as well as with Baxter’s distinctive writing style. This is not to say that there isn’t a fair amount of mystery, though. Has the elusive Jerome Coolberg successfully stolen Nathaniel’s identity? Is his life his own anymore? And why are seemingly random objects disappearing from his home, culminating to the point that all that’s left is a mattress and a single book of romantic poetry?

Much like Baxter’s other novels, the writing is filled with intriguing details, superbly painting each scene as one not just described, but one that’s been truly lived. Every page brings you closer to the characters and the things they see and feel. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter scene for Baxter. Even situations that seem mundane at first have their way of being completely defamiliarized by the end.

But what makes this book most interesting is how none of these mysteries are clear-cut. Even the question of who the book is titled after; who the soul thief is? is an open-ended question. Ultimately, the questions that can arise from this book are left with the reader after the last page. And they’re questions about self; who we are, and what is it that makes us who we are? Through the details, we can not only see what’s happening in the book, but can place ourselves there. How would we feel if we were in Nathaniel’s place? I recommending reading it and finding out for yourself.

The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter is published by Pantheon.

1 comment:

ValinParis said...

Baxter's defamiliarization shows in his work, not just in his classes and workshops. One of the best writing approaches I've ever learned. Great review.