At the center of Foregone is famed Canadian American leftist documentary filmmaker Leonard Fife, one of sixty thousand draft evaders and deserters who fled to Canada to avoid serving in Vietnam. Fife, now in his late seventies, is dying of cancer in Montreal and has agreed to a final interview in which he is determined to bare all his secrets at last, to demythologize his mythologized life. The interview is filmed by his acolyte and ex-star student, Malcolm MacLeod, in the presence of Fife's wife and alongside Malcolm's producer, cinematographer, and sound technician, all of whom have long admired Fife but who must now absorb the meaning of his astonishing, dark confession.
Imaginatively structured around Fife's secret memories and alternating between the experiences of the characters who are filming his confession, the novel challenges our assumptions and understanding about a significant lost chapter in American history and the nature of memory itself. Russell Banks gives us a daring and resonant work about the scope of one man's mysterious life, revealed through the fragments of his recovered past.
Praise for Russell Banks
'Russell Banks' work presents without falsehood and with a tough affection the uncompromising moral voice of
our time' - Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient
'Foregone focuses [Banks'] sharp eye on the feints and fictions amid life's “facts,” as he reveals his fascinatingly fallible character, Fife' - Ann Beattie
'Banks, who turned 80 this year, explores aging, memory, and reputation in thoughtful and touching ways, enhanced by the correspondence between aspects of Leo's life and the writer's own history... A challenging, risk-taking work marked by a wry and compassionate intelligence' - Kirkus Reviews on Foregone
'Russell Banks is, word for word, idea for idea, one of the great American novelists' - Colum McCann
'Russell Banks knows everything worth knowing…and much, much more' - Washington Post
'A writer of extraordinary power' - Boston Globe
'One of the overlooked classics of American literature' - Guardian on Cloudsplitter
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 7 members
I can see this becoming a nextflix mini series. It really moving and though provoking!! First time I've heard of this author let alone read a book by him but definitely not the last!
Foregone" is the latest novel from Russell Banks, probably one of the best wordsmiths on the Canadian literary landscape at work today. It's the powerful but rather bleak story of Leonard Fife, an American documentary filmmaker nearing 80, exiled in Canada since 1968 and dying from terminal cancer. It takes place during the course of a single day (April fool's day) in Montreal where former students of Fife are gathered around him in order to shoot a documentary about his works. But Fife has no desire to talk about his professional life, deciding instead to unleash a powerful flood of erratic ramblings and dubious memories about his personal life, his betrayals, his secrets and his emotional failures. I couldn't really decide if he was knowingly not telling the truth most of time or if his mind was too addled by the inefficiency of his drug treatment. "Foregone" is a magnificent and very compelling novel about memories, aging and one's abilities to differentiate between real and fictional facts when going down memory lane. Suffice too say that the depressing bleakness brought upon us by the current health catastrophe might actually turn some people away from this beautiful novel and this would be quite understandable. I will probably wait a few more months and read it again. Reading it was a very moving experience but it definitely left me shaken and very sad. To be handled with caution... Many thanks to Netgalley and Oldcastle Books for giving me the opportunity to read this wonderful novel prior to its release date
American author Russell Banks, now in his eighties, known for books like The Sweet Hereafter and Cloudsplitter, is clearly in a mood to reconsider his life. His latest novel Foregone is more than a little bit autobiographical, with his main character sharing many of his life experiences, and containing some of the DNA of his 2016 non-fiction book Voyager. Leo Fife, a famous Canadian documentary maker, is dying from cancer. He offers Malcolm, an old colleague, the opportunity to record one final interview, an opportunity that Malcolm finds too good to pass up. But Fife is not interested in reliving or explaining old glories which is what Malcolm is there for. Instead, Leo insists that his wife Emma be in the room for the interview and uses the process to come clean about the life he had before he came to Canada. That life included two former wives and a couple of children left behind when he fled the United States in 1968 as a supposed conscientious objector. The bulk of the story is Leo’s increasingly muddled reminiscence of his various relationships and different points in his life – from running away from home at 18 to go to Cuba (but only getting as far as Florida), his first marriage which ended badly and his second marriage which he also ended up fleeing from. But also around this is the story of the documentary being made, of the tension between those wanting to make their careers on the back of Leo’s confessions and his wife Emma, seeking to preserve his reputation. Reader’s patience with this narrative will depend on how they connect to Leo Fife. Leo is not a particularly likeable person. He is selfish and mendacious, recounting as he does a life of lying in order to get what he wants. But he is also fascinating and his story, rambling though it is, is told in a compelling way. So that by the end readers may still not like Leo but they might feel they understand him more. Of course by that time, there has been doubt thrown on the whole narrative, a suggestion that the drugs he is on encourages him to confabulate and that the stories he is telling are actually a recasting of Emma’s own story. Foregone is another masterwork from one of America’s great novelists. Those familiar with Banks’ biography and the stories that he told in Voyager will find plenty of resonance in the life of Leo Fife. This is not strictly Banks’ history but he has clearly used the detail of his life to give Leo’s tale the deep richness that it has. And that is what impresses here, the way in which Leo’s story comes together, the depth of the characters that he encounters, the underlying commentary on the American experience and the pathos that Banks manages to generate.