The Feast of Love

The Feast of Love

by Charles Baxter

Paperback(1 VINTAGE)

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Overview

National Book Award Finalist

From "one of our most gifted writers" (Chicago Tribune), here is a superb new novel that delicately unearths the myriad manifestations of extraordinary love between ordinary people.

The Feast of Love is just that -- a sumptuous work of fiction about the thing that most distracts and delights us. In a re-imagined Midsummer Night's Dream, men and women speak of and desire their ideal mates; parents seek out their lost children; adult children try to come to terms with their own parents and, in some cases, find new ones.

In vignettes both comic and sexy, the owner of a coffee shop recalls the day his first wife seemed to achieve a moment of simple perfection, while she remembers the women's softball game during which she was stricken by the beauty of the shortstop. A young couple spends hours at the coffee shop fueling the idea of their fierce love. A professor of philosophy, stopping by for a cup of coffee, makes a valiant attempt to explain what he knows to be the inexplicable workings of the human heart Their voices resonate with each other -- disparate people joined by the meanderings of love -- and come together in a tapestry that depicts the most irresistible arena of life. Crafted with subtlety, grace, and power, The Feast of Love is a masterful novel.

"Supurb.... A near perfect book, as deep as it is broad in its humaneness, comedy and wisdom." -- The Washington Post Book World

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375709104
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/2001
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: 1 VINTAGE
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 592,606
Product dimensions: 5.17(w) x 7.99(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Charles Baxter is the author of the novels The Feast of Love (nominated for the National Book Award), The Soul Thief, Saul and Patsy, Shadow Play, and First Light, and the story collections Gryphon, Believers, A Relative Stranger, Through the Safety Net, and Harmony of the World.  The stories “Bravery” and “Charity,” which appear in There’s Something I Want You to Do, were included in Best American Short Stories. Baxter lives in Minneapolis and teaches at the University of Minnesota and in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College.

Hometown:

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Date of Birth:

May 13, 1947

Place of Birth:

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Education:

B. A., Macalester College, 1969; Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 1974

Read an Excerpt

preludes

The man -- me, this pale being, no one else, it seems -- wakes in fright, tangled up in the sheets.

The darkened room, the half-closed doors of the closet and the slender pine-slatted lamp on the bedside table: I don't recognize them. On the opposite side of the room, the streetlight's distant luminance coating the window shade has an eerie unwelcome glow. None of these previously familiar objects have any familiarity now. What's worse, I cannot remember or recognize myself. I sit up in bed -- actually, I lurch in mild sleepy terror toward the vertical. There's a demon here, one of the unnamed ones, the demon of erasure and forgetting. I can't manage my way through this feeling because my mind isn't working, and because it, the flesh in which I'm housed, hasn't yet become me.

Looking into the darkness, I have optical floaters: there, on the opposite wall, are gears turning separately and then moving closer to one another until their cogs start to mesh and rotate in unison.

Then I feel her hand on my back. She's accustomed by now to my night amnesias, and with what has become an almost automatic response, she reaches up sleepily from her side of the bed and touches me between the shoulder blades. In this manner the world's objects slip back into their fixed positions.

"Charlie," she says. Although I have not recognized myself, apparently I recognize her: her hand, her voice, even the slight saltine-cracker scent of her body as it rises out of sleep. I turn toward her and hold her in my arms, trying to get my heart rate under control. She puts her hand to my chest. "You've been dreaming," she says. "It's only a bad dream." Then she says, half-asleep again, "You have bad dreams," she yawns, "because you don't . . ." Before she can finish the sentence, she descends back into sleep.

I get up and walk to the study. I have been advised to take a set of steps as a remedy. I have "identity lapses," as the doctor is pleased to call them. I have not found this clinical phrase in any book. I think he made it up. Whatever they are called, these lapses lead to physical side effects: my heart is still thumping, and I can hardly sit or lie still.

I write my name, Charles Baxter, my address, the county, and the state in which I live. I concoct a word that doesn't exist in our language but still might have a meaning or should have one: glimmerless. I am glimmerless. I write down the word next to my name.

On the first floor near the foot of the stairs, we have placed on the wall an antique mirror so old that it can't reflect anything anymore. Its surface, worn down to nubbled grainy gray stubs, has lost one of its dimensions. Like me, it's glimmerless. You can't see into it now, just past it. Depth has been replaced by texture. This mirror gives back nothing and makes no productive claim upon anyone. The mirror has been so completely worn away that you have to learn to live with what it refuses to do. That's its beauty.

I have put on jeans, a shirt, shoes. I will take a walk. I glide past the nonmirroring mirror, unseen, thinking myself a vampire who soaks up essences other than blood. I go outside to Woodland Drive and saunter to the end of the block onto a large vacant lot. Here I am, a mere neighbor, somnambulating, harmless, no longer a menace to myself or to anyone else, and, stage by stage, feeling calmer now that I am outside.

As all the neighbors know, no house will ever be built on the ground where I am standing because of subsurface problems with water drainage. In the flatlands of Michigan the water stays put. The storm sewers have proven to be inadequate, with the result that this property, at the base of the hill on which our street was laid, always floods following thunderstorms and stays wet for weeks. The neighborhood kids love it. After rains they shriek their way to the puddles.

Above me in the clear night sky, the moon, Earth's mad companion, is belting out show tunes. A Rodgers and Hart medley, this is, including "Where or When." The moon has a good baritone voice. No: someone from down the block has an audio system on. Apparently I am still quite sleepy and disoriented. The moon, it seems, is not singing after all.

I turn away from the vacant lot and head east along its edge, taking the sidewalk that leads to the path into what is called Pioneer Woods. These woods border the houses on my street. I know the path by heart. I have taken walks on this path almost every day for the last twenty years. Our dog, Tasha, walks through here as mechanically as I do except when she sees a squirrel. In the moonlight the path that I am following has the appearance of the tunnel that Beauty walks through to get to the Beast, and though I cannot see what lies at the other end of the tunnel, I do not need to see it. I could walk it blind.

On the path now, urged leftward toward a stand of maples, I hear the sound of droplets falling through the leaves. It can't be raining. There are still stars visible intermittently overhead. No: here are the gypsy moths, still in their caterpillar form, chewing at the maple and serviceberry leaves, devouring our neighborhood forest leaf by leaf. Night gives them no rest. The woods have been infested with them, and during the day the sun shines through these trees as if spring were here, bare stunned nubs of gnawed and nibbled leaves casting almost no shade on the ground, where the altered soil chemistry, thanks to the caterpillars' leavings, has killed most of the seedlings, leaving only disagreeably enlarged thorny and deep-rooted thistles, horror-movie phantasm vegetation with deep root systems. The trees are coated, studded, with caterpillars, their bare trunks hairy and squirming. I can barely see them but can hear their every scrape and crawl.

The city has sprayed this forest with Bacillus thuringiensis, two words I love to say to myself, and the bacillus has killed some of these pests; their bodies lie on the path, where my seemingly adhesive shoes pick them up. I can feel them under my soles in the dark as I walk, squirming semiliquid life. Squish, squoosh. And in my night confusion it is as if I can hear the leaves being gnawed, the forest being eaten alive, shred by shred. I cannot bear it. They are not mild, these moths. Their appetites are blindingly voracious, obsessive. An acquaintance has told me that the Navahos refer to someone with an emotional illness as "moth crazy."

On the other side of the woods I come out onto the edge of a street, Stadium Boulevard, and walk down a slope toward the corner, where a stoplight is blinking red in two directions. I turn east and head toward the University of Michigan football stadium, the largest college football stadium in the country. The greater part of it was excavated below ground; only a small part of its steel and concrete structure is visible from here, the corner of Stadium and Main, just east of Pioneer High School. Cars pass occasionally on the street, their drivers hunched over, occasionally glancing at me in a fearful or predatory manner. Two teenagers out here are skateboarding in the dark, clattering over the pavement, doing their risky and amazing ankle-busting curb jumping. They grunt and holler. Both white, they have fashioned Rasta-wear for themselves, dreads and oversized unbuttoned vests over bare skin. I check my watch. It is 1:30. I stop to make sure that no patrol cars are passing and then make my way through the turnstiles. The university has planned to build an enormous iron fence around this place, but it's not here yet. I am trespassing now and subject to arrest. After entering the tunneled walkway of Gate 19, I find myself at the south end zone, in the kingdom of football.

Inside the stadium, I feel the hushed moonlight on my back and sit down on a metal bench. The August meteor shower now seems to be part of this show. I am two thirds of the way up. These seats are too high for visibility and too coldly metallic for comfort, but the place is so massive that it makes most individual judgments irrelevant. Like any coliseum, it defeats privacy and solitude through sheer size. Carved out of the earth, sized for hordes and giants, bloody injuries and shouting, and so massive that no glance can take it all in, the stadium can be considered the staging ground for epic events, and not just football: in 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson announced his Great Society program here.

On every home-game Saturday in the fall, blimps and biplanes pulling advertising banners putter in semicircles overhead. Starting about three hours before kickoff, our street begins to be clogged with parked cars and RVs driven by midwesterners in various states of happy pre-inebriation, and when I rake the leaves in my back yard I hear the tidal clamor of the crowd in the distance, half a mile away. The crowd at the game is loudly traditional and antiphonal: one side of the stadium roars GO and the other side roars BLUE. The sounds rise to the sky, also blue, but nonpartisan.

The moonlight reflects off the rows of stands. I look down at the field, now, at 1:45 in the morning. A midsummer night's dream is being enacted down there.
This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires and those of a solitary naked couple, barely visible down there right now on the fifty-yard line, making love, on this midsummer night.

They are making soft distant audibles.

Back out on the sidewalk, I turn west and walk toward Allmendinger Park. I see the park's basketball hoops and tennis courts and monkey bars illuminated dimly by the streetlight. Near the merry-go-round, the city planners have bolted several benches into the ground for sedentary parents watching their children. I used to watch my son from that very spot. As I stroll by on the sidewalk, I think I see someone, some shadowy figure in a jacket, emerging as if out of a fog or mist, sitting on a bench accompanied by a dog, but certainly not watching any children, this man, not at this time of night, and as I draw closer, he looks up, and so does the dog, a somewhat nondescript collie-Labrador-shepherd mix. I know this dog. I also know the man sitting next to him. I have known him for years. His arms are flung out on both sides of the bench, and his legs are crossed, and in addition to the jacket (a dark blue Chicago Bulls windbreaker), he's wearing a baseball hat, as if he were not quite adult, as if he had not quite given up the dreams of youth and athletic grace and skill. His name is Bradley W. Smith.

His chinos are one size too large for him -- they bag around his hips and his knees -- and he's wearing a shirt with a curious design that I cannot quite make out, an interlocking M. C. Escher giraffe pattern, giraffes linked to giraffes, but it can't be that, it can't be what I think it is. In the dark my friend looks like an exceptionally handsome toad. The dog snaps at a moth, then puts his head on his owner's leg. I might be hallucinating the giraffes on the man's shirt, or I might simply be mistaken. He glances at me in the dark as I sit down next to him on the bench.

"Hey," he says, "Charlie. What the hell are you doing out here? What's up?"

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Charles Baxter's The Feast of Love. While this extraordinary novel takes on literature's great themes--love, death, and life's bewildering mixture of pain and happiness--it does so in a disarmingly simple way. As every character tells his or her own story, Baxter weaves each sharply distinctive voice into a chorus that is unforgettable in its comedy, wit, and profundity, as well as in the sheer reading pleasure that it offers.

1. As the book opens, the character Charles Baxter leaves his house for a walk in the middle of the night. As he passes an antique mirror at the foot of the stairs, he describes the mirror as "glimmerless," a word he has used to describe himself [p. 4]. What does he mean by this? At the end of the novel, as dawn arrives, he tells us that "all the voices have died out in my head. I've been emptied out. . . . My glimmerlessness has abated, it seems, at least for the moment" [p. 307]. What is the real Charles Baxter suggesting about the role of the author in The Feast of Love?

2. Does Baxter's decision to give the job of narration over to the characters themselves create a stronger sense of realism in the novel? Does it offer a greater possibility for revelation from the characters? What is the effect of this narrative technique on the reading experience?

3. Does Bradley become more interesting as the novel unfolds? Kathryn says of him, "He turned himself into the greatest abstraction" [p. 34]. His neighbor Harry Ginsberg says, "He seemed to be living far down inside himself, perhaps in a secret passageway connected to his heart" [p. 75], while Diana says, "What a midwesterner he was, a thoroughly unhip guy with his heart in the usual place, on the sleeve, in plain sight. He was uninteresting and genuine, sweet-tempered and dependable, the sort of man who will stabilize your pulse rather than make it race" [p. 140]. Which, if any, of these insights is closest to the truth?

4. The novel takes its title from a beautiful, light-filled painting that Bradley has made and hidden in his basement. When Esther Ginsberg asks him why there are no people in the painting, Bradley answers, "Because . . . no one's ever allowed to go there. You can see it but you can't reach it" [p. 81]. Does the fact that Bradley has been able to paint such a powerful image suggest that he is closer to attaining it than he thinks?

5. Why does Chlo? go to see Mrs. Maggaroulian, the psychic? Is the fortune-teller's presence in the novel related to Harry Ginsberg's belief that "the unexpected is always upon us" [pp. 290, 302]? How might this belief change the way one chooses to live?

6. What are Diana's motivations for marrying Bradley? Does her reasoning process [p. 138] seem plausible, or is it the result of desperation and self-deception? Is Diana, at the outset, the least likable character in the novel? How does she manage to work her way into the reader's affections?

7. Bradley is a person who baffles himself. He says, "I need a detective who could snoop around in my life and then tell me the solution to the mystery that I have yet to define, and the crime that created it" [p. 106]. Why, if his first wife Kathryn has a profound fear of dogs, does he take her to visit a dog pound? Why, if his second wife Diana is afraid of open spaces, does he take her to the wide skies and watery horizons of Michigan's Upper Peninsula? Why does he often act in ways that will compromise his happiness? Is Bradley like most people in this unfortunate tendency?

8. The characters often define themselves in strikingly economical statements. For instance, Diana says, "I lack usable tenderness and I don't have a shred of kindness, but I'm not a villain and never have been" [p. 258]; and Bradley says, "My inner life lacks dignity" [p. 58]. Do the characters in this novel display an unusual degree of insight and self-knowledge? Are some more perceptive about themselves than others?

9. In his description of the shopping mall in which Jitters is located, Bradley remarks, "The ion content in the oxygen has been tampered with by people trying to save money by giving you less oxygen to breathe. You get light-headed and desperate to shop. . . . Don't get me wrong: I believe in business and profit" [p. 110]. In what ways is Bradley not a typical businessman? How does Jitters differ from a caf? such as Starbucks? What observations does the novel make about America's consumer-driven culture?

10. Throughout literature (for example, in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet), the traditional boy-meets-girl plot is complicated by the presence of a father or parents who refuse to sanction the union of the lovers. Can Oscar's father be seen in this traditional role--as a potential threat to the happiness of Chlo? and Oscar? Or does he represent something far more threatening and evil? What is his effect on the latter part of the novel?

11. Harry Ginsberg tells Bradley about a poem his mother used to recite, about a dragon with a rubber nose. "This dragon would erase all the signs in town at night. During the day, no one would know where to go or what to buy. No signs anywhere. Posters gone, information gone. . . . A world without signs of any kind. . . . Very curious. I often think about that poem" [p. 88]. Bradley takes up the idea, and begins to draw pictures of the dragon. How does the parable of the dragon resonate with some of the larger questions and ideas in the novel?

12. Speaking of Oscar, Chlo? says, "Words violate him. And me, Chlo?, I'm even more that way. There's almost no point in me saying anything about myself because the words will all be inhuman and brutally inaccurate. So no matter what I say, there's no profit in it" [p. 63]. Does Chlo? underestimate her own talent for self-expression? Do her sections of the narrative belie her opinion about the uselessness of words?

13. How would you characterize Chlo?'s unique brand of intelligence? What are her strengths as a person? Is it likely that she will survive the loss of Oscar, and the challenge of single parenting, without any diminishment of her spirit?

14. Chlo? believes that she once saw Jesus at a party; she also believes in karma and similar forms of spiritual justice. Harry Ginsberg, a scholar of the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, remarks, "The problem with love and God . . . is how to say anything about them that doesn't annihilate them instantly with wrong words, with untruth. . . . We feel both, but because we cannot speak clearly about them, we end up--wordless, inarticulate--by denying their existence altogether, and pfffffft, they die" [p. 77]. Why do questions of spirituality and the meaning of human existence play such a major role in The Feast of Love?

15. In The Feast of Love, is sex an accurate gauge of the state of two people's emotional relationship to each other? If sex is an expression of Chlo? and Oscar's joy in each other, does it make sense that they attempt to use it to make some sorely needed money? Is it puritanical to assume that they are making a mistake? Why are they ill suited for the pornography business?

16. Based on what happens in The Feast of Love, would you assume that the author believes that love is necessary for happiness? Although they begin the novel mismatched, Bradley, Kathryn, and Diana eventually all find themselves with the partners they truly desire. Is it surprising that the novel offers so many happy endings? How does the tragedy of Oscar's death fit in with the better fortunes of the other characters? Why has Baxter chosen to quote Prokofiev [p. 237] to open the section called "Ends"?

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Feast of Love 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
..and it's not necessarily what really happened, at least according to the other participants. The characters are finely draw, honest and interesting even when distasteful and unappealling in their habits. The part about the psychic in Ypsilanti is too funny - you want to read it out loud to a friend. The last chapter I have read several times. Life is sad, funny, passionate and full of missteps- but our time here is short - we should appreciate it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never has a book kept me up all night. Feast of Love is a rare look at the passion behind what really makes a relationship work. The way you are able to relate to there struggles and emotion is nothing short of outstanding. Highly charged. A must for any avid reader.
katydid-it on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was very disappointed. I had gotten several recommendations for this novel and was looking forward to it. But I actually found it boring and had to force myself to finish it. There wasn't one character that I identified with and so found it just annoying. But my biggest complaint is that Baxter just doesn't write women well. Each of the female characters seemed like a cliche or stereotype - and they definitely weren't positive cliches. Read this for a book club and found it interesting that the rest of the readers all felt the same way - that this would be an alright vacation read rather than a Danielle Steele, but otherwise it wasn't worth the time.
kristenn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an insanely good book.It's love stories, mostly. And just people's lives. Present-day Ann Arbor. It starts with the actual author going for a walk in the middle of the night due to ongoing insomnia and running into a neighbor. It comes up in conversation that the author is a bit blocked. The neighbor, Bradley, recommends writing a love story and using the experiences of real people. He offers to both provide some of his own history, and hook the author up with people he knows with stories of their own. And that's what happens. So the book is more a collection of short stories as a novel. There are at least six people narrating different chapters, in distinctive voices. Some appear more than once. Their stories overlap, since they're all connected somehow to Bradley and sometimes directly to each other as well.It's one of those books that's really enjoyable not for the plot or even the characters so much as for the actual writing. The turns of phrase. Where you just periodically stop and smile and think "Wow, he's good." Apparently Baxter is one of those writers who is well-known to other writers. And mostly does short stories.Sometimes the writing is a little too written. The whole thing is people talking, and sometimes they sound like an essay instead. Especially when coming up with metaphors. But mostly they sound like real people. Real people that you would like to know and hang out with. (Well, some of them.) Most impressive -- considering the author -- is a total Suicide Girls type of about 20 years old who has several chapters, and is completely believable as such. She exists.There's a nice variety of characters. 20s/30s/40s/50s. Married couples. Dating couples. Divorcing couples. Couples having affairs. Although did the lesbian couple really have to meet at a softball game?
revslick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a sexy, savvy, yet subtle, suburban stories interweaving characters and their story into a novel filled with strong doses of reality. If your looking for escapism, look elsewhere; however, if you're looking for realistic characters with bite then proceed knowing the wrapping doesn't end in warm fuzzies. I gave it a 3/5 because some of the characters stories I didn't connect well with, but overall it is well crafted.
drpeff on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Odd format. Lots of tangents. Hard to follow the storyline if there is one. Good
WittyreaderLI on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book that will make you completely engrossed. Every single character has sincere importance, and they will not be forgotten anytime soon.
heikid on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
- The writer has a very good style,created lively and somewhat realistic characters,the novel reads like a movie...it's a decent literature piece all in all.- i'd like to know the narrator more,especially that he had an interesting set-upin the beginning, as the guy who remembers everyone/everything else but himself.
MiserableLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Baxter¿s story-within-a-story does have its touching and comic and poignant moments, but something just didn¿t come together for me. His protaganist meets Bradley on a bench during an insomniac walk, and Bradley¿s story of his own loves, and the loves and lives of others with whom he crosses paths, makes up this tale of loss and love and plain old life. His coffee shop serves as the background for a number of vignettes, each narrated by a different character (Chloe, the young-in-love woman; Kathryn and Diana, Bradley¿s two former wives; Harry Ginsburg, Bradley¿s older Kierkegaard-reading philosophy professor; even one by David, Diana¿s lover). Not a bad story, for a male author at any rate.
stubbyfingers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The format of this book was an interesting idea: stories about love told from the points of view of various members of a community. I liked the way in the end everyone was connected. The stories were entertaining and the writing was interesting. But for some reason I didn't really enjoy this book. First of all, there was a bit too much sex for my taste. Secondly, I never felt any connection with any of the characters. I didn't identify personally with any of them and I never particularly liked any of them. Basically, I had no reason to care about what happened in this book. I spent my time reading it just so I could finish and get on to my next book.
LaBibliophille on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting concept, but the characters and situations were not totally believable. Still, it was a good read.
magst on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a conglomeration of stories related to the author by friends, neighbors, ex¿s, & acquaintances about their current situations in life. Some of the stories are very sad in a strange way. Not the crying, gut wrenching sad, but more like "how sad that their life has come to this". The characters are wonderfully written, easy to care about, & their stories will touch your heart, and genuinely have you wanting to help.
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KVSallis More than 1 year ago
Only one of the most brilliant books I have ever read. Ever. Read. I have read a LOT of books. Like Pet Sematary, I was disappointed in watching the movie (for different reasons), though the movie was probably in all actuality quite good. Reading the book several years beforehand in effect spoiled any motion picture concept to come. It is raw emotion. Pure, raw, intense energy, even in the slowest-paced parts of this work. If Bret Easton Elis (who I like) was an even better writer, and left behind the morose for the *real* morbidity of the human emotional condition, this would be the product. Absolutely incredible.
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Ashley Mulhollam More than 1 year ago
By far my favorite read. Purely beautiful story.
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Kayla Compton More than 1 year ago
Couldnt put this book down
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