Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Will

The Will
Harvey Swados
4 / 5

Published 1968

First Sentence
"When you were young and a friend died, Solomon Stark reflected as he steered absently through the slush on the road to the municipal airport, you wept; but when you were past seventy, the tears did not come so easily, even though the loss was correspondingly greater."

Publisher's Description:

Brothers Leo and Max Land came to America from Romania in 1911, but they took different paths in pursuit of the American dream. Even as they worked together, Max sought out material things while Leo made a simple, private life for himself. Now, after the death of both brothers, Leo’s three sons—the only surviving heirs—learn that they stand to inherit a fortune. As they battle for control, they come to expose their own deeply complicated visions of success in America. The Will is a stunning portrait of American idealism crushed under the weight of material desires.
Dear Reader,

You want to know the strangest thing?  I was pretty blown away by this book, until I realized it was a reprint of a 1968 publication.  Then, for some reason, it became slightly more so-so in my mind.  Is that saying something about the state of novels in this day and age?  Perhaps simply that things were written in a different way back then?  I can't  be sure.  I just really would have been extremely impressed if someone, writing now, could have written the late '60s so well.  Knowing that Swados was writing it during that time period made it less...magical, I guess?  Less fanciful on the part of the author, I suppose.

Despite how that happened, though, and even though this took me months and months to read (only because I was reading it as an e-book, and those tend to get lost in the shuffle from time to time!), it was still quite good.  A very well-written book about a pretty quotidian story, really.  I mean, there certainly wasn't serious originality in the book, I'd argue: it was the story of three brothers who return to their childhood home in order to stake their claim on a mysterious inheritance.  The book examined their relationships with one another, with their loved ones, with the world at large (including several people who played large roles in their collective past).  It was also a study of fatherhood, from both the point of view of the father and that of his three strikingly different sons.  The sons were stories in and of themselves, and the reader got to spend a good chunk of time with each man, learning their motives and back-story.  So in this way, it was a fantastic character study. And, the descriptions of the burgeoning city (suburbs somewhere outside of Chicago, I think?) in the postwar boom were wonderful.  What a different time it was back then.  The end of the book, however, was...pretty anticlimactic.  I still am not sure what I think about it.  It reminded me in a very loose and strange way of The Usual Suspects, where a big and supposedly game-changing secret is revealed only at the end.  But it wasn't that mind-boggling to me, and it felt like Swados rushed the resolution of his book, choosing to leave all of the relationships (these that he had been developing as hero vs. foil throughout the novel, poised to be resolved) still entirely open-ended.

I have to say, though, I did love the double nature of the title: of course, it refers to the actual document conferring inheritance, but I believe it also speaks strongly of the intense and stubborn personalities that all three of the brothers possessed - perhaps, in its own way, their true inheritance from their father and uncle, in the end.


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