by Charles Baxter
Charles Baxter taught at the University of Michigan; The Feast of Love is set in Ann Arbor, with Baxter himself appearing in the book as its writer. As the novel opens, Baxter awakens from a nightmare, goes out for a nocturnal walk, and encounters an acquaintance, Bradley, sitting on a bench. Bradley suggests an idea and even a name for Baxter's next novel: He'll send "actual people" to Baxter to tell him their stories for a book called The Feast of Love.
Not surprisingly, Bradley becomes one of the main characters; the self-described "expert on love" relates the history of his two failed marriages and a third romance that may last. We also hear from the past and present women in Bradley's life; the ardent and loopy young lovers Chloé, a waitress at Bradley's coffee shop, and Oscar; and Bradley's elderly neighbors, Harry and Esther, whose mentally ill son torments them. These people narrate their own chapters, and Baxter, receding into the background, finds an engaging voice for each of them. Tenderness, sweetness, passion, neediness, pain, and the rest of the spectrum of romantic love are primary, but parental and other kinds of love, even love for a dog, also turn up.
The theme and Bradley's association with all the characters' tie together what might have seemed a collection of stories. Baxter is in fact better known for his short stories than for his novels — when he's known at all. Despite praise from literary critics and the respect of his peers, Baxter is unfamiliar to many readers. That's a shame. The Feast of Love is touching, enchanting, and funny — a nourishing feast.
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