Double-Bind Choices

At NYT Books:

Like a ferocious bulletin from an alternate universe — tumbling, pell-mell, brilliant and strange — comes this explosive and discomfiting fifth novel by Carolyn Chute. Form doesn’t just follow feeling in these pages, it chases it helplessly with a butterfly net, casting about in multiple directions, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. But watching Chute miss what she’s after is more interesting than watching a lesser, better behaved writer catch tidier prey.

“The School on Heart’s Content Road” is as idiosyncratic as it is engaging. A mytho­poetics of the Second Amendment isn’t exactly common in modern American literary fiction. But neither is the depiction of contemporary American poverty: of the slow, relentless grind of never quite having enough, of the leaching of hope and ambition from those for whom a job at Wal-Mart is a rare opportunity, of the impossible double-bind choices made by the poor every day. This is a beautiful novel, a polemical novel, a messy novel. It’s a love song to a part of America that doesn’t have much of a voice, and is armed. Chute is such an extra­ordinary, vivid, empathic writer that it would be tempting to swoon into the love and overlook the bullets. To do that, however, would also be to dim the considerable power here: if the despair and the tenderness are real, so are the guns.


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