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A searing novel about memory, abandonment, and betrayal from the acclaimed and bestselling Russell Banks  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 agr A searing novel about memory, abandonment, and betrayal from the acclaimed and bestselling Russell Banks  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.


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A searing novel about memory, abandonment, and betrayal from the acclaimed and bestselling Russell Banks  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 agr A searing novel about memory, abandonment, and betrayal from the acclaimed and bestselling Russell Banks  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.

30 review for Foregone

  1. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    2.5 stars When I finish reading a book , I’m almost always sure of what I think about it, how I feel about it . I can say that I didn’t really like this book, but it’s not as simple as that. It’s the story of a pitiful man, a famed documentary film maker in the last moments of his life, dying of cancer and seeking forgiveness from his wife and redemption for himself. Doing so by telling all of his sins and the lies he’s lived before a camera as a film is being made of him as he is dying. A morbi 2.5 stars When I finish reading a book , I’m almost always sure of what I think about it, how I feel about it . I can say that I didn’t really like this book, but it’s not as simple as that. It’s the story of a pitiful man, a famed documentary film maker in the last moments of his life, dying of cancer and seeking forgiveness from his wife and redemption for himself. Doing so by telling all of his sins and the lies he’s lived before a camera as a film is being made of him as he is dying. A morbid picture, I thought. I never really knew, even at the end what he is seeking redemption for because it’s never clear whether he’s telling the truth for various reasons. Someone else is making the film, but throughout it seemed as if Leo Fife was doing the directing, one last documentary with himself as the subject. There are a number of manipulative people on this film crew as well as Leo himself. I was left with some reflections on death, dying , on memory , but overall, it felt contrived and I felt somewhat manipulated, too . I’ve racked my brain, read the highly rated reviews for some enlightenment about whether I was missing something profound. I still don’t have the answer. Russell Banks is a highly acclaimed writer and this is the first book I’ve read by him. I think rather than taking my word here, looking at other reviews might help you decide if this is for you. You might find what I missed. I read this with Diane and Esil for our ongoing monthly read . I received a copy of this from the publisher, through Edelweiss.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jill

    In this audacious—dare I say brilliant?—new work, Russell Banks’ character, Leo Fife—a documentary filmmaker just inches away from death—shines the spotlight on himself and what has been left unsaid. The conceit is that Fife, with days remaining in his life, allows his acolyte, Malcolm MacLeod, to record his dark confession, with his wife, Emma, present. In the interest of true honesty, he reveals his past marriages, his desertion of the children he helped bring into the world, his betrayal of a In this audacious—dare I say brilliant?—new work, Russell Banks’ character, Leo Fife—a documentary filmmaker just inches away from death—shines the spotlight on himself and what has been left unsaid. The conceit is that Fife, with days remaining in his life, allows his acolyte, Malcolm MacLeod, to record his dark confession, with his wife, Emma, present. In the interest of true honesty, he reveals his past marriages, his desertion of the children he helped bring into the world, his betrayal of a best friend, his demythologized role as a deserter to Canada in the Vietnam War, and his forays with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez during that time frame. But it would be a mistake to view Foregone as a plot-focused novel or to even take it at face meaning. Banks is setting his own spotlight on the role of memory: the complexity of our stories and their moral ambiguities, the reductive and selective way we remember them, the way that fantasies confabulation and even hallucinations affect what we recall, and how we shape how we want to be remembered. Leo Fife tries to break free from his image—a fictional character created by others—to own the truths of his life, without anyone else doing the directing or editing of it. Russell Banks writes, “…standing at the meaningful center, is the hologram named Fife, Leonard Fife, a remembered version of the man as remembered by the man himself.” To complicate the picture, Fife is the ultimate unreliable narrator, mixing memories and dreams and imagined details and memories, embedding whatever drifts his way. Are his memories accurate? Are they mostly accurate but rearranged by the intervening years? And then the reader also needs to look at the puppeteer—Banks himself—who, at 80 years old, shares some of the plot details with his character. Banks cautions us not to try too hard: “It’s like trying to tie a novel to the author’s real life…You can’t do it.” And indeed, the reader truly can’t. Russell Banks is unique but not unique—his story of how we remember is universal. This is an affecting and self-challenging work that may turn off some readers who want to view it solely from the prism of Leo Fife’s life rather than expand it to the role of memory on elucidating that life. I owe a debt of thanks to HarperCollins’ imprint Ecco for providing me with an advance reader’s galley in exchange for an honest review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    There is no rhyme or reason to pandemic reading. I have struggled getting into any serious fiction lately. I have quit many more Banks novels than I've finished (before today I'd only finished one) and I have basically sworn off the subgenre of Books About Dying Men. And yet I finished this in less than a day, nearly in a single sitting. I can't explain it, it is what it is. It has been so long since I've read a Book About a Dying Man that perhaps the whole trope has changed and my memories of it There is no rhyme or reason to pandemic reading. I have struggled getting into any serious fiction lately. I have quit many more Banks novels than I've finished (before today I'd only finished one) and I have basically sworn off the subgenre of Books About Dying Men. And yet I finished this in less than a day, nearly in a single sitting. I can't explain it, it is what it is. It has been so long since I've read a Book About a Dying Man that perhaps the whole trope has changed and my memories of it are outdated. But the ones I recall so often ended up being books about regret, and by regret I mean the regret these men had that they could no longer have sex with the women they once had sex with. Often they were catalogs of sexual exploits, grappling less with mortality and more with lost virility. I hated them. Especially because these men inevitably treated the women badly, tended to lean heavily into madonna/whore complexes, and the women themselves didn't seem to exist outside of objects of conquest. That, happily, was not this book. It is certainly a book about a man who has treated women badly. And it is about one of those Great Men, a respected documentary filmmaker. And, to add another precarious level, it is about a man slipping into incoherence due to age, illness, and morphine. This is a lot to take on. Oh, and I have I mentioned that the whole thing takes place in a single day, where the Great Man's former student is filming him for a documentary about the Great Man himself? So many balls being juggled, so many ways for it to go wrong, and yet I found it satisfying in pretty much all of these elements. The documentary element serves to ground the book, even though we are mostly inside Fife's head, the voices around him, the questions from the filmmakers, the presence of his wife nearby who he wants to confess to, and the occasional injection from his nurse, remind us--and Fife--of the present he is actually in, pulling him out of his memories. It also helps us have an idea of just how far off Fife is from the world around him. At times it seems he's just fine, and we think those around him are being overly cautious, but then we'll realize that he has lost some elements of reality and perhaps the mind we're inhabiting is not so straightforward. The documentary element also allows a little bit of swiping at the form, at the directors who continue to push and prod in directions Fife doesn't want to go, and who continue filming even when others ask them to stop and question Fife's ability to consent. There are times when Fife's stories become more dreamlike, and as we go they are less straightforward narratives and more muddled. But the first half or so rings out clearly enough to get us really invested, so that we the readers know the broad strokes of what Fife wants to say, and can tolerate the jumping around pretty easily, while also recognizing that this is probably not all translating as it comes out of Fife's mouth to his listeners. There is a real urgency to it, from the first page. He wants to confess that his origin story is not what everyone thinks it is. This man, who came into public life after making a documentary about Agent Orange testing, and who presented himself as an American draft dodger seeking sanctuary in Canada, was not who he said he was. It is this time in his life that Fife focuses on and that we walk through, his time from his teenage years through his late-20's, when he cannot seem to do anything except create a life and then abandon it over and over again. The focus on this one period in so much detail does make you wonder more about his life later, which we only see sideways, usually through references to his films. But it's clear that these are nearly two different men, and that helps to understand the confessional nature of what Fife wants to do, his desire to not lie about himself for once. It's a book about death, too. Fife is thinking about it a lot. He is sick enough that there is nothing left to do for him. He has left the hospital to die at home. So it's unsurprising that death is on his mind, the way he is past fear of it and staring it straight in the face. He is frustrated by his physical deterioration and his inability to communicate, but I liked being in his head, seeing him as a valid being, even when the people around him didn't. So yes I know this one sounds like a downer and I'm not saying it's not. But I read it in a day, in a fury almost. It's the strangest thing. I hope you can experience it the same way.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kasa Cotugno

    Inside a luxury apartment in Montreal with the windows blacked out, Leo Fife is living his last, being filmed by a protege. In a method that he himself developed in his career as a documentarian, he is surrounded by darkness only lit by a Speedlight illuminating his face. But as the memories surface, he ignores all the others in the room, only addressing Emma, his beloved wife of almost 40 years, confessing those parts of his life she has never heard of. But are they true. This elliptical novel Inside a luxury apartment in Montreal with the windows blacked out, Leo Fife is living his last, being filmed by a protege. In a method that he himself developed in his career as a documentarian, he is surrounded by darkness only lit by a Speedlight illuminating his face. But as the memories surface, he ignores all the others in the room, only addressing Emma, his beloved wife of almost 40 years, confessing those parts of his life she has never heard of. But are they true. This elliptical novel is masterful in its approach and structure, almost going backwards through the memories, revealing a life in which Leo went from one abandonment to the next, betraying anyone who showed him a kindness or who loved him even if he didn't love them back. Wives. Children. Incomprehensible. But did they happen. Banks leaves it up to the reader to decide. I've loved the works of Russell Banks ever since Continental Drift changed the direction of my reading habits almost 40 years ago.

  5. 5 out of 5

    switterbug (Betsey)

    Foregone, as dictionary definition: 1) that has gone before; previous; past. 2) determined in advance; inevitable. Both those definitions categorically apply to Russell Banks’ latest novel, a story of the past, present and the inevitable. Banks’ use of the lexicon is searing and powerful; every page that you open has quotable passages and sentences, and ultimately refers to the protagonist, Leonard Fife, and his memories. A Canadian American documentary muckraking filmmaker, Leonard Fife is dying Foregone, as dictionary definition: 1) that has gone before; previous; past. 2) determined in advance; inevitable. Both those definitions categorically apply to Russell Banks’ latest novel, a story of the past, present and the inevitable. Banks’ use of the lexicon is searing and powerful; every page that you open has quotable passages and sentences, and ultimately refers to the protagonist, Leonard Fife, and his memories. A Canadian American documentary muckraking filmmaker, Leonard Fife is dying of cancer, and he desperately wants to tell his wife the truth of his past. As he does so on camera, in a documentary about him, he pleads for his wife, Emma, to be in the room, so he can tell the unvarnished truth. “Because in private he can’t keep himself from lying to her… …In private, one to one, he has complete control over everything he tells her, as if he doesn’t really exist… …When they’re alone…it doesn’t matter if what Fife says is true or false, because everything he says in private is both true and false and neither.” Fife is practically a myth himself, a legendary documentarian who, as an American, evaded the Vietnam draft, and has stayed in Canada all these years hence. His past is full of secrets, however. The cancer has freed him—there’s no more ambition, nothing to promote, nobody to impress. The man he mentored is the ambitious one now, making the film this time, of Fife. But Fife has gone off script, and is exposing the bare, stunning memories of his life, all for Emma’s ears. And, in telling Emma his story and correcting the record, he’s trying to stay alive. He knows he has only weeks or days to live. “Time, like cancer, is the devourer of our lives. When you have no future, and the present doesn’t exist, except as consciousness, all you have for a self is a past. And if…your past is a lie, a fiction, then you can’t be said to exist, except as a fictional character.” The above quote is the central grasp of this story. If our past, which doesn’t exist, is an artifact of our memories, and our memories aren’t linear, but rather, are fragments strung together, then what pieces of our past are true, and what is a fabrication of our minds and memories? But if all you have for a self is a past, and the past is fictional, then what are you as a person? Fife has no future; he’s at the precipice of death. His only way to “exist” is to be true to Emma, so that he can remain real, and not fade to black as an imagined or invented person. I have a particular passion for novels that are focused on the worldly, the temporal, and how our retained memories are braided into Time. If we can either make up a past, or misremember it, then does it exist? Banks explores this in a deep and often disturbing way, twining existence and memories into one another, folding and unfolding, raveling, twisting, weaving, and binding it all together—sometimes as a ligature, or a noose, and at other times a release, a final feeling of freedom from the fabric or fabrication of our lives. Thematically and artistically, and with muscular prose, Banks is a giant among readers’ writers. My only disappointment centers on a conspicuous and paramount event, an incident that I recalled before it happened, because I perceived it would happen in a lesser author, but not Banks! But he did--he coopted a plot point from a 1969 movie, Alice’s Restaurant (a comedy with heft). My letdown is that Banks was either (on this one feature, but a primary feature) lazy or perhaps he incorporated the Guthrie plot point unconsciously. Either way, it stunned me. However, this is a resonant, beautifully tragic novel that deserves its praise and the audience of literature lovers. Thank you to HarperCollins for sending me an ARC for review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    KarenK

    I received this from Netgalley.com. "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." One thing I like about historical fiction, the author(s) take one little nugget of true information and create an entire story around it. Although I knew there were people who fled north to avoid being drafted, I didn't know they tested Agent Orange in Canada. But, un I received this from Netgalley.com. "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." One thing I like about historical fiction, the author(s) take one little nugget of true information and create an entire story around it. Although I knew there were people who fled north to avoid being drafted, I didn't know they tested Agent Orange in Canada. But, unfortunately this book seemed to drag on and on, the pacing felt off and uneven. 2☆

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Brody

    I found this novel irresistible in the beginning but at about half way through, it started to get repetitive and boring, enough so that I put it down and didn't finish it. Leonard Fife, now dying from end-stage cancer, has agreed to one last interview that his interviewers think will focus on why he escaped to Canada to avoid the Vietnamese war. Leo has other ideas and takes over the interview without letting the interviewers get a word in edgewise. Leo talks incessantly about his early life, his I found this novel irresistible in the beginning but at about half way through, it started to get repetitive and boring, enough so that I put it down and didn't finish it. Leonard Fife, now dying from end-stage cancer, has agreed to one last interview that his interviewers think will focus on why he escaped to Canada to avoid the Vietnamese war. Leo has other ideas and takes over the interview without letting the interviewers get a word in edgewise. Leo talks incessantly about his early life, his first and second marriages, and the convoluted ways he made it to the top as a liberal documentary film maker. Leo goes back and forth in time and he is difficult to understand. His ramblings are not cogent not are his reasons for going back so far in time. His solipsism gets old fast and wore me down. I kept hoping for new revelations but they were not forthcoming. I am sad to say that this is not a book for me.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    “Oh, Canada!” Leonard Fife is a legendary filmmaker, his searing social commentary an important part of North American history. But now he is dying, and he has a few things he needs to get off his chest before he goes. My thanks go to Net Galley and Harper Collins for the review copy. This book is available to the public March 2, 2021. Fife is not a lovable character, and now that the end is near, he wants everyone to know it. With the cameras trained on him, darkness all around him but for the s “Oh, Canada!” Leonard Fife is a legendary filmmaker, his searing social commentary an important part of North American history. But now he is dying, and he has a few things he needs to get off his chest before he goes. My thanks go to Net Galley and Harper Collins for the review copy. This book is available to the public March 2, 2021. Fife is not a lovable character, and now that the end is near, he wants everyone to know it. With the cameras trained on him, darkness all around him but for the spot shining on him as he speaks, he tells his life’s story, and he spares himself nothing. One relationship after another, abandoned without even a goodbye. Children left fatherless. Lives laid waste in his passing. Banks is one of the most brilliant novelists in the U.S., and his word smithery can turn nearly any terrible story into spun gold, but he never pulls punches. His writing is often painful to read, and here it is true in spades, agonizing. By the halfway mark, I am watching the page numbers crawl by and wishing it over. But of course, there’s a surprise in store. I don’t want to give spoilers, but in the last half of the book, the question arises as to whether our narrator is reliable. He says he did all of these dreadful things; but did he really…? The book flows so seamlessly that the difficulty of writing it is not obvious, but here it is: almost the entire thing is one man’s narrative. There’s very little dialogue. It’s not an easy thing to carry off, and yet, this is Banks, and he does. As his narrative unspools, we are occasionally reminded of his current circumstances by breaks in the action. Once in awhile he is overtaxed and starts to drift off, or worse, and action has to cease immediately while the nurse does important things quickly. Now and then she has to change his bag, or help him onto the toilet and wipe his butt afterward. There’s not a lot of dignity left to the man. But he doesn’t give a…okay, I’m not saying it. As he insistently recounts his many betrayals of loved ones, ignoring the more suitable, conventional questions that the people filming him thought were going to provide the framework of the film, he makes it crystal clear that it doesn’t bother him in the slightest, what he is doing to his legacy. Torpedo all of it; hell, he’ll be dead before the film opens. What he wants is to be truthful, and the one person he wants to know the truth is Emma, his wife. He knows he cannot be truthful with her unless the camera is rolling, and he won’t proceed unless she is there. RIGHT there. He calls for her many times, making certain she hasn’t left. And through the occasional things she says, we are aware that Emma is not merely his arm candy, not a sycophant that married him for fame, fortune, or prestige; she’s a respected professional in her own field, juggling her own commitments in order to be present here and now for Leonard. By the time the story ends, my feelings have changed. Leonard is still no angel, but he’s not the sack of excrement I believed him to be, either. The guy I hate at the end is the filmmaker, once Leonard’s protegee, but now wolfishly eager for his mentor to die on camera for him. The nurse orders the camera turned off, but the director calls over the top of her to keep it rolling, the vulture. I want to smack him! Ultimately we see that death is a final betrayal, a form of abandonment; but Leonard is at peace, because his goal is realized. And this is the story’s title, but I am not going to tell you how that works. Get the book and read it. All your own sorrows will feel smaller.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lou

    He doesn’t have much time on his hands, Leonard Fife, slowly he will slip away, he is trying to hold on and grasp memories, fragments of the past life together, and is to tell on video with Malcolm filming in his home, Leonard the once writer, filmmaker, teacher, telling on his life. It’s a meditate look back and a journey through one man loosing his grasp and wanting to bare many things and slowly unable to recollect. There is great empathy for the main character, hooking you through this read, w He doesn’t have much time on his hands, Leonard Fife, slowly he will slip away, he is trying to hold on and grasp memories, fragments of the past life together, and is to tell on video with Malcolm filming in his home, Leonard the once writer, filmmaker, teacher, telling on his life. It’s a meditate look back and a journey through one man loosing his grasp and wanting to bare many things and slowly unable to recollect. There is great empathy for the main character, hooking you through this read, with the terrible cancer eating him away and the author evoking the stark reality of it. There are quite a few excerpts below, fine examples of the authors great crafting that keeps you reading till the mans final day. There are illuminating days past in these pages with his loved life in Canada and turbulent times from planning to fight alongside Castro In Cuba, avoiding going to Vietnam, and meetings with Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. This reading In the bleak times we are living with pandemic at present may have more drive at this novel being more successful, one to penetrate the readers hearts and minds as an effective long lasting novel of one mans life. One may even ponder on how one would tell their story, on their bed of death with camera crew, baring all as this beautiful life slips from us with things we carried. Review with many excerpts @ More2read

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve Essick

    About five years ago I reread David Copperfield because I was looking for one specific passage that haunted me from my original reading approximately thirty years previously. That sentence is :” I had considered how the things that never happen, are often as much realities to us, in their effects, as those that are accomplished”. The sentiment expressed here embodies the core of Russell Banks’ wonderful new book, #Foregone. Whether consciously or unconsciously', we’re all constantly writing our About five years ago I reread David Copperfield because I was looking for one specific passage that haunted me from my original reading approximately thirty years previously. That sentence is :” I had considered how the things that never happen, are often as much realities to us, in their effects, as those that are accomplished”. The sentiment expressed here embodies the core of Russell Banks’ wonderful new book, #Foregone. Whether consciously or unconsciously', we’re all constantly writing our autobiographies, and the older we become the more nonfiction morphs into fiction. The question for each of us is the degree to which this happens. In #Foregone, Leonard Fife, a dying American/Canadian documentary filmmaker becomes the focal point of a Canadian Documentary in which he gets to provide the story as he remembers it. The fact that he is at the end of his life and full of Chemotherapy drugs and painkillers makes the veracity of his story questionable. Add to this the fact that being a film documentarian himself,Fife is fully aware that the completed story will be manufactured by the filmmakers themselves', and probably vastly different from the story he is telling to the only audience he cares about, his wife Emma. In #Foregone, Russell Banks has created a thought provoking and compelling novel- one that is not to be missed.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kerry Pickens

    Russell Banks is a writer that I always expect to deliver a story in an emotional territory way beyond what most authors dare tread upon. His book The Sweetafter is a good example as it deals parents griefing over the loss of a child. This book however is difficult to relate to as drags slowly on and the main character is not engaging.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sam Sattler

    “He tries to say, ‘Forgive me,’ but all he can say is, “Forgone.” He feels himself being pulled as if by the crushing force of gravity into a black hole from which not even light can escape.” In 1968, when Leonard Fife crossed the Canadian border in the early dawn hours, he claimed to be a draft dodger from the U.S. hoping to begin a new life in Canada. Fifty years later, the 78-year-old Fife, now one of the most respected documentarians in Canada, lies on his deathbed, himself the subject of a d “He tries to say, ‘Forgive me,’ but all he can say is, “Forgone.” He feels himself being pulled as if by the crushing force of gravity into a black hole from which not even light can escape.” In 1968, when Leonard Fife crossed the Canadian border in the early dawn hours, he claimed to be a draft dodger from the U.S. hoping to begin a new life in Canada. Fifty years later, the 78-year-old Fife, now one of the most respected documentarians in Canada, lies on his deathbed, himself the subject of a documentary being filmed for Canadian television. A film crew, including some of his former students, is there to record Fife’s final words and thoughts for the film world and his fans. Fife is happy they are there, but he has something else entirely in mind for what is about to happen. Even though Leonard Fife accomplished a lot during his lifetime, he is not at all happy with who he is and how he got it all done. Before he goes, he wants to make certain that Emma, his wife, knows exactly who she has been married to for the last few decades. He hopes she will still love him when he’s done talking, but before he dies, Fife is desperate to tell her all the things he has been hiding from her for so long. And so he looks into the camera and begins to tell the uncensored, unvarnished story of his life. Or is he really? Russell Banks’s Foregone is a deeply drawn character study, but even that character is not certain if what he is telling the world about himself is really true. Leo does know that he cannot say any of this to his wife’s face; he cannot look her in the eye and get even this close to the truths he wants her to know. So, in a darkened room, with one light shining on his face, he begins at the beginning, hoping to make it to the end of his story before he draws his last breath. The problem for Leo is that the film crew is not happy with his rambling monologue, his wife can barely stand to be in the room while all this is happening, and the more he fades, the less sure he is that the stories he is telling really happened - and if they did happen, whether or not it was even him they happened to. Bottom Line: Foregone is one of those books that demand a good bit of patience from the reader. It is a book in which readers are likely to dislike just about every featured character (the exception being Leo’s nurse and - mostly - his wife Emma). It is not filled with a lot of action despite the fact that it is the coming-of-age story of a man who ran from every problem he got himself into, abandoning friends and loved ones all the while. It’s a book about despair and giving up, a book about a man who, at the end of his life, doesn’t seem to like himself very much. All of that said, Leo Fife is a man and a character I will not soon forget. It is not important that I like him or not; I know him now.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aaron (Typographical Era)

    “He wonders if by means of disinterring his past, he’s trying to swap out guilt for anger and denial. As if to say, Yes, it’s true, I did all those bad things, I’m guilty as charged. But, people, it wasn’t my fault, I had a terrible childhood, I was the victim of circumstances. The devil made me do it. Everything is contingent. And now, since I’ve confessed and can be angry at my parents and at circumstances and at the devil, at my fate, now everyone has to forgive me. Acknowledgment without apo “He wonders if by means of disinterring his past, he’s trying to swap out guilt for anger and denial. As if to say, Yes, it’s true, I did all those bad things, I’m guilty as charged. But, people, it wasn’t my fault, I had a terrible childhood, I was the victim of circumstances. The devil made me do it. Everything is contingent. And now, since I’ve confessed and can be angry at my parents and at circumstances and at the devil, at my fate, now everyone has to forgive me. Acknowledgment without apology.” I love Russell Banks, but this one was disappointing. A meandering meditation on the fallibility of memory, the stories we keep to ourselves and those we share and how they define our personal sense of self, the need to love and be loved, and of course, death. The more that is revealed about Leonard Fife, the less you believe. Perhaps that’s the point. Can you ever really know someone completely? If you could, would you accept them, flaws and all? In the end, what does it really matter?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    At face value, this is a book about a dying documentary filmmaker reviewing his life while a group of vulture-like documentary filmmakers are recording this as he goes through his (graphically described) dying process. The subject of the story is a young man living during the years when the Vietnam war was a life-shaping event and he recalls this as well as betrayals and abandonments he committed, his thoughts consisting mostly of regrets and guilts with little regard given to positive memories. At face value, this is a book about a dying documentary filmmaker reviewing his life while a group of vulture-like documentary filmmakers are recording this as he goes through his (graphically described) dying process. The subject of the story is a young man living during the years when the Vietnam war was a life-shaping event and he recalls this as well as betrayals and abandonments he committed, his thoughts consisting mostly of regrets and guilts with little regard given to positive memories. As a man approaching the age of this character it was difficult for me not to personalize this and imagine, short of sudden death, whether a life review might be a universal end of life experience and hoping that failures are not the overwhelming content of one’s last recollections. It’s a powerful story but I prefer several of the author’s other books..

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mary Lins

    My very first impression of, “Forgone”, by Russell Banks, was: “Dang, no quotation marks. UGH.” Thus I often had to re-read a passage to understand if the characters are actually SAYING SOMETHING OUT-LOUD, or just thinking it. Sheesh. Ordinarily I’d subtract a star for this, but I have to admit that the narrative was compelling enough for me to put up with it. (But WHY?!!?) Leonard Fife is a dying man, and before he goes he has some things he wants to say, and some things he needs to remember, an My very first impression of, “Forgone”, by Russell Banks, was: “Dang, no quotation marks. UGH.” Thus I often had to re-read a passage to understand if the characters are actually SAYING SOMETHING OUT-LOUD, or just thinking it. Sheesh. Ordinarily I’d subtract a star for this, but I have to admit that the narrative was compelling enough for me to put up with it. (But WHY?!!?) Leonard Fife is a dying man, and before he goes he has some things he wants to say, and some things he needs to remember, and others that need forgiving or forgiveness. He will be using his “last interview” to do just that. Leo is a “leftist Canadian documentarian” who had been celebrated in Canada as one of the 60,000 American men who fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War. But when his final interview takes place, Leo makes a shocking confession. He has spent decades exposing the “corruption, mendacity, and hypocrisy” in others; is he exposing his own now? But how much of what Leo tells the film crew, and his present wife, is true? How much is a distortion of memory? Could he have Korsakoff Syndrome? And it is at this point in the novel we ask ourselves - What is the nature of our memories of our past selves? Can any of our memories really be “true” in any sense? There is a fair bit of meandering and repetition, and a whole “yes or no” , “true or false”, Schrodinger’s Cat, aspect to the novel that might put off some readers, but to me it was in keeping with the theme of the impermanence of memory. I think it no accident that Banks sets this final interview with Leo to takes place on April Fool’s Day.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Karen Kuhn

    This book is a very interesting look at one man's last day alive. The author manages to tell the man's entire life, his memories, feelings, the things he regrets, missteps and confusions. This book could be very confusing, all the trips, car rides, etc but only one part reads like the ramblings of a dying man. The rest is a beautiful weaving of a long, detailed story of a whole life. Well done. This book is a very interesting look at one man's last day alive. The author manages to tell the man's entire life, his memories, feelings, the things he regrets, missteps and confusions. This book could be very confusing, all the trips, car rides, etc but only one part reads like the ramblings of a dying man. The rest is a beautiful weaving of a long, detailed story of a whole life. Well done.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    Audible version: I've really liked or loved the previous Banks' novels I've read or listened to. However, this one was SO repetitive! I think I heard the same argument 15 times about how Emma needed to stay in the room while they were filming the documentary or he wouldn't go on, and no matter how many times he told her he needed her to be there to hear it, she just kept saying, "no, stop this!" God! If your spouse was dying within days, wouldn't you just shut the F#@& up and listen? The rest of Audible version: I've really liked or loved the previous Banks' novels I've read or listened to. However, this one was SO repetitive! I think I heard the same argument 15 times about how Emma needed to stay in the room while they were filming the documentary or he wouldn't go on, and no matter how many times he told her he needed her to be there to hear it, she just kept saying, "no, stop this!" God! If your spouse was dying within days, wouldn't you just shut the F#@& up and listen? The rest of it was pretty mundane, though sure, sometimes the insights and descriptions were just what you'd expect from Banks. Just check it out from the library rather than buy it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    vicki honeyman

    It's been a long long time since I've read an entirely masculine-based novel. I wanted to dislike the book because the main character reminded me of so many men I've known in my life. But. I was drawn into Leonard Fife's life story as he recounted it in a stream of consciousness manner while being filmed (on his deathbed) for a documentary about his life as a famous Canadian documentary filmmaker. Curious from the start about his defection to Canada in 1968 to avoid the draft, a time in history It's been a long long time since I've read an entirely masculine-based novel. I wanted to dislike the book because the main character reminded me of so many men I've known in my life. But. I was drawn into Leonard Fife's life story as he recounted it in a stream of consciousness manner while being filmed (on his deathbed) for a documentary about his life as a famous Canadian documentary filmmaker. Curious from the start about his defection to Canada in 1968 to avoid the draft, a time in history I am forever obsessed with, I needed to believe in Leonard's convictions. Pulitzer Prize awarded Russell Banks did a superb job of pulling the wool over our eyes as he forced us to endure some utterly contemptible people along with a few honorable figures who were a part of and party to Leonard Fife's life story.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Doctor Moss

    Wow, there’s a lot going on here. Emotionally and intellectually, and just plain good storytelling. I got hooked on Russell Banks long ago when I read Continental Drift. This might be, for me anyway, his best since. Leonard Fife is dying of cancer. He’s a famous Canadian documentary filmmaker who came to Canada from the US during the Vietnam War, along with the influx of draft and war resisters. He made his home in Canada, with his wife Emma, and his name in leftish documentaries. Emma is there w Wow, there’s a lot going on here. Emotionally and intellectually, and just plain good storytelling. I got hooked on Russell Banks long ago when I read Continental Drift. This might be, for me anyway, his best since. Leonard Fife is dying of cancer. He’s a famous Canadian documentary filmmaker who came to Canada from the US during the Vietnam War, along with the influx of draft and war resisters. He made his home in Canada, with his wife Emma, and his name in leftish documentaries. Emma is there with him now, sitting and listening, as Fife tells his life story to the camera. Malcolm, one of Fife’s film students, is there to make the film, to record the story of how Fife came to Canada, got his start, and what led him to his art and its content. But Fife has a different idea. This is going to be his chance to come clean to Emma about his life before he met her. It’s going to be the story of his “betrayals and abandonments,” parts of his life that he has never told her. He’s doing it on camera, in front of Malcolm and his film crew, and his nurse Renée, because he says that if he tells her the story in private, he will retreat to lies and obfuscations. If he speaks directly to Emma, and looks at her as he speaks, he will spare her the truth about himself. This is his way of getting it all out. Naturally, it’s not what Malcolm wants. He has questions. He wants to interview Fife, to get the documentary he thinks his audience will want. It’s downright annoying to him. But Fife just talks. He talks about his teenage marriage to Amy and their daughter — a life abandoned. He talks about his second marriage, to Alicia, and his son Cornel, all abandoned. All betrayed and abandoned. He talks about why he really came to Canada, and it wasn’t to resist the draft during the Vietnam War. He talks about sabotaging his draft physical to get a 4-F deferment and not having to face the draft. If anybody wants to hear it all, it’s not Emma. It’s not Malcolm or his crew, either. And Renée isn’t really interested. But he says, to himself, he’s doing it for Emma. He wants Emma to know him for himself, to know who it is that she has loved. By contrast with the wives he’s abandoned, this is his way of finally immersing himself, fully engaging himself with her — no secrets, no lies, no obscuring. He wants to be known, by Emma and, for that matter, by himself. This is to be a life finished in full. But it’s not something Emma wants. She tries to shut it all down, then tries to leave the room. But Fife insists he go on, and he won’t go on unless she’s there. She insists he’s not telling her anything new. She suggests it may not be true, the effect of the drugs Fife is on. They were warned he would be prone to “confabulation.” And, in fact, we don’t know if what the story he is telling is true. The memories he recites are the content of his consciousness — that’s all we know. And he wants to get it out. Fife’s memories will die and cease to exist once he dies. His work will still be there, others’ memories of him will still be there, but whatever is unique to his memories, to his consciousness, whatever is secretly hiding there, won’t. Unless he gets it all out. The narrator, speaking for Fife, says, “In telling his story to Emma, Fife is not trying to correct the record, he’s trying to stay alive.” In his life, his consciousness is a necessity. How could it wink out when he dies? Can he save it? Does anybody want it? Emma? Malcolm? Emma has her own memories, her own consciousness. Is it incomplete without his memories and his consciousness? Is this just Fife being self-indulgent? Thinking that his story needs to be told, that somehow Emma is not complete without knowing everything about him? Just as the life he tells her about is a life of self-indulgence? And using Malcolm, Diana, Vincent, and Sloan as accomplices to his self-indulgence? Is he ignoring the lives of all of those other people in the interest of his own story? Or is it just the least someone can ask, that before they die they be known to those who matter the most to them for who they really are? What if it’s not true? Banks obviously chose the date for the filming to say something — April 1, 2018. And what about all that stuff with Joan Baez and “Bobby Zimmerman?” Regardless it’s still Fife’s story. If his consciousness is “real,” then it has some sort of reality, it’s part of his life. What he’s telling is true to his consciousness. I wonder what the book would have been like if it were the first of Banks’ books that I’d read. If it would mean the same thing to me without having followed his own stories from Continental Drift on to now. Every book is, like Fife’s story, the content of the author’s consciousness and “true” in that sense. Okay, maybe I’m going too far. This is not post-modernism, but it’s as close as Russell Banks is likely to get to post-modernism. There’s a lot going on here. That’s worth saying a couple of times.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    Foregone by Russell Banks is a highly recommended novel where a dying man shares memories from the early part of his life. "Except for his memories, all living traces of his past, all the witnesses and evidence, have been erased by years of betrayal, abandonment, divorce, annulment, flight, and exile, eaten by time the way his body is being eaten by cancer." Canadian American Leonard Fife is dying from cancer in Montreal. Now in his late seventies, he fled American and went to Canada many years ea Foregone by Russell Banks is a highly recommended novel where a dying man shares memories from the early part of his life. "Except for his memories, all living traces of his past, all the witnesses and evidence, have been erased by years of betrayal, abandonment, divorce, annulment, flight, and exile, eaten by time the way his body is being eaten by cancer." Canadian American Leonard Fife is dying from cancer in Montreal. Now in his late seventies, he fled American and went to Canada many years earlier to avoid serving in Vietnam. He became a lauded documentary filmmaker in Canada. Now one of his former students, Malcolm MacLeod, is going to film Fife in a last interview about his famous films and how they were made. Fife has another plan. He is going to confess all his secrets and tell the real story of his life to the camera, while speaking to his wife, Emma. In a room of his apartment prepared for the interview, Fife sits under a focused light in his wheelchair while on a morphine drip with his nurse nearby. Rather than answering questions posed to him by Malcolm, he insists his wife Emma be present so he can confess the true story of his life before they met. "[H]e’s telling his tale to his wife, Emma, because he wants to be known by her, the one person who has said many times over that she loves him for who he is, regardless of who he is. Perhaps most importantly, for the same reason, he’s telling it to himself- because before he dies he wants to be known to himself, regardless of who he is." Then Fife begins his story before he cam to Canada, when he was married, had a son, and wanted to be an author. As Fife shares his story in the narrative it becomes clear that his memories may not be quite as coherent or cohesive as he thinks they are to his audience and readers will ultimately wonder what memories are just in his mind and what he is actually sharing. At the beginning the memories Fife shares seem realistic and trustworthy to the reader, through Fife's point-of-view, but then his memories begin to flicker to other events at different times and the realism of his recollections is not so straightforward. Fife is dying. We know this from the start and Fife knows that death is imminent. The thoughts in his head that we learn through the confession he wants to share make him a sympathetic character. As the narrative continues it becomes clear that that his illness and medication may result in the fact that Fife is an unreliable narrator. This is a compelling story of a dying man sharing his memories. In between his story are interjections from his wife, nurse and others in the room. Their discussions make is clear that what they are hearing is not necessarily what we are reading. Can our memories of our past be trusted or are we our best editors? This is a character study of a man that may not be entirely trustworthy, but these are the stories he wanted to share before he died. Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of HarperCollins. http://www.shetreadssoftly.com/2021/0...

  21. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    0-stars. Zero-stars. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Foregone is now in my top 3 worst books I've ever read. I have never read a story so pointlessly useless in my entire life. At least the others have some semblance of a story that keeps you moving along. This promises some enormous revelation that never comes. It's a lie. The rest of this review will be a bunch of rambling but will hopefully clear-up my big issues with the book, besides the book existing. Fife constantly asks if his wife Emma is there ev 0-stars. Zero-stars. Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Foregone is now in my top 3 worst books I've ever read. I have never read a story so pointlessly useless in my entire life. At least the others have some semblance of a story that keeps you moving along. This promises some enormous revelation that never comes. It's a lie. The rest of this review will be a bunch of rambling but will hopefully clear-up my big issues with the book, besides the book existing. Fife constantly asks if his wife Emma is there every other chapter because she needs to hear the truth and know how things really were, but at no point during his incoherent, pointless ramblings does anyone react remotely surprised. Maybe that's the intent. Either way it fails at whatever it's trying to be. This is also paired with Malcolm asking if Fife is still okay to film, Emma says no, Fife says I'm fine, Emma grumbles, they change the camera's card because they run out of room every monologue and the camera gets hot. Details are added that don't matter. Fife mentions lighting a cigarette on a plane and Malcolm interrupts because he's shocked by this, but then remembers it was done in 1968 and says sorry, get back to it. There's a section dedicated to the discussion of opening a joint checking account; not long after this there are roughly 2 pages dedicated to him driving and describing how that's going. At one point Fife goes into a pharmacy to buy a map and we get a full paragraph on who the teenage girl behind the counter could be and what she might be up to. Fife compares himself to Pinocchio which ends up being one of the most awkwardly contrived comparisons I've ever read, which he discusses with his caretaker Renee, before turning into a conversation on it being made into a Disney movie and that she would like the movie over the book because she believes in the resurrection? Ugh. Time period inconsistencies happen every so often, such as Fife in the late 60's having a Moleskine notebook, even though they weren't founded until 1997. It's only to be referential not accurate. We are consistently reminded of how important Fife was and that he'll go down in history with this interview that's being conducted and not to worry because he'll be done justice. If you're going to prop up your subject at least make him interesting. The rambling chapters mostly read like the narrator, who is supposed to be Malcolm but then isn't when it needs to be, is just feeding you information you would find on a Wikipedia page, sprinkled with timely facts that add nothing to the story. It's all useless. I hate this book. I absolutely hate it. Would not recommend. Would not read another book by this author. I feel like I've lost years off my life after this. Thank you to Ecco and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this novel, even though I was late getting to it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Steve Carter

    This is a new novel by an elderly writer who knows he is coming to the end of a successful career. It’s about a successful left-wing Canadian documentary filmmaker in his late 70s dying, and quite soon, of cancer. But Leo Fife is now involved with one last project. Other documentarians are filming him for one last interview. They are former students of his. They want to talk about his career and the details of production of certain of his films, but he has another plan, a sort of confession tha This is a new novel by an elderly writer who knows he is coming to the end of a successful career. It’s about a successful left-wing Canadian documentary filmmaker in his late 70s dying, and quite soon, of cancer. But Leo Fife is now involved with one last project. Other documentarians are filming him for one last interview. They are former students of his. They want to talk about his career and the details of production of certain of his films, but he has another plan, a sort of confession that he wants his wife to hear. We are told throughout that Leo is on heavy medication for his cancer. Also that he was somewhat of a heavy drinker. Both of these things make his testimony unreliable. His wife insists that some of the stories he is coming up with are actually her story. We have no real reason to believe that any of this is “true”. Yet the novel has an authentic feeling of a human life as it flashes by, from and returning to oblivion. He doesn't want to talk about his filmmaking or his Candian life at all, just events from his earliest years. In this USA youth of his he dwells on stories of how he abandoned people in the past. Clearly he is feeling guilt and shame for this and wants to set the record straight so that Emma, his wife will know who he truly is rather than who he has become as the successful American draft resister who fled to Canada to start a new life. His story is totally different from that. It is an episodic tale of at least two different life and family trajectories he was on and how he abandoned those lives and people almost on a wim. The novel has a unique style. There is a lot of supposed dialogue, but no quotation marks are used. Where other writers may have done this, or tried it, Banks makes it all perfectly clear, with no question of, ”Wait! Who is talking here?” It’s really well crafted. The heart of it is easy to access because the mechanics do not call attention to themselves. Stylistically it is a very smooth presentation that goes down easily. The reader is presented with a certain amount of life and death contemplation. These things concern what is likely to happen next, after death. Leo, the character, is of a secular orientation, so he is facing the nothingness next, or the everythingness. It is all viewed as a sort of return to the sourse without memory of this existence.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Library....overdrive...read by Stephen Mendel ....11 hours and 21 minutes Soon after my library-audio arrived..I took a quick look at Goodreads to see if others had read it. I couldn’t remember anything about it. Several of my friends rated it pretty low — a few pretty high — and a few an average 3 star rating. I didn’t know what to think. I tried not to be influenced by the range of ratings. So....here are my own thoughts. I loved the beginning....fully drawn in. What’s the problem, I was wonderi Library....overdrive...read by Stephen Mendel ....11 hours and 21 minutes Soon after my library-audio arrived..I took a quick look at Goodreads to see if others had read it. I couldn’t remember anything about it. Several of my friends rated it pretty low — a few pretty high — and a few an average 3 star rating. I didn’t know what to think. I tried not to be influenced by the range of ratings. So....here are my own thoughts. I loved the beginning....fully drawn in. What’s the problem, I was wondering?....( not to fear...the flaws ‘were’ coming down the pipes) Note...this is my first novel by Russell Banks The premises was interesting. A documentary filmmaker, Leo Fife — ( dying of Cancer), known to his Canadian fans as ‘The Ken Burns of the North’....wants to confess his sins for the world to see....including reveal secrets his wife will soon learn - during the filming shoot. HOLY CRAP..... Was this a ‘Jerry Springer’ type - tell all- type novel? Kinda sounded like it. Controversial topics -- trashy behaviors- perhaps a little self severing - self- indulgent - narcissistic truth telling? Public shaming of self? Or.....perhaps bitterness of dying - period? Leo doesn’t seem to give a rats-ass about his reputation....or ‘exposing’ his private - hidden - past shitty choices .... Plus....Leo’s ‘reveal’....his naughty memories....are questionable. He’s on so much pain-medication....that it makes him not only a cranky unlikable likable character but also an unreliable one.... I’m mixed about this novel 1....I’m glad I read it....( as I said the premises was kinda of fascinating)... But 2...not all the specific stories ( as in storytelling itself), were all that interesting.. Ultimately what this book did for me was want to know a little bit more about the author. And I am definitely interested in reading something else he wrote. But that’s it.... Liked it... Didn’t hate it.... Didn’t love it.... But.... LIKED IT.... 3.5 stars — rating down. I do think Russell Banks is an interesting writer. He knows how to write a thought-provoking-character novel anyway! Suggestions for readers ‘favorite’ Banks book?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gail Smith

    In his novel Foregone Russell Banks reaches through the glass screen of my e-reader and yanks me into the darkened room where Leonard Fife is sitting in his wheelchair, spotlighted from behind. Leo, a renowned Canadian documentary filmmaker, is being interviewed by two of his former students and proteges for a final interview. Leo has cancer. “He originally meant to allow them, as they wished, to conduct a proper interview about his life and work in Canada, to let them ask their prepared question In his novel Foregone Russell Banks reaches through the glass screen of my e-reader and yanks me into the darkened room where Leonard Fife is sitting in his wheelchair, spotlighted from behind. Leo, a renowned Canadian documentary filmmaker, is being interviewed by two of his former students and proteges for a final interview. Leo has cancer. “He originally meant to allow them, as they wished, to conduct a proper interview about his life and work in Canada, to let them ask their prepared questions in a natural way, or at least in a way that is characteristic of him: digressive and impersonal, rephrasing the questions in order to say what he wants them to hear, no more, no less, reinforcing and embellishing the public image of Leonard Fife as an intelligent and imaginative and intellectually serious man, yet a warm, good-humored man, a frank, unpretentious, down-to-earth man. But at the same time a high-minded and morally and politically principled man. Do the thing he’s done a hundred times.” But this is not what Leo does. He takes control of the interview and tells the story of his life, not for those who are filming but for his wife of 40 years, Emma. Banks eloquently unfolds the story of Leo Fife’s life: the lies, the loves, the leaving. Leaving is what Leonard Fife does best. “Confession, followed by repentance and atonement, leads to forgiveness. That’s his plan, his only purpose now. His final hope, actually.” This is not an uplifting book, and Leo Fife is not an admirable man. It is a book about human nature: guilt, denial, the rationalizations that we make to ourselves, the malleability of memory. As the book progresses, one questions whether Leo is a reliable narrator. Have the drugs and the memory lapses conflated this telling? Has Leo rationalized his actions to the point that he does not know the truth anymore? This is my first Russell Banks novel, and I could not put it down. In researching the author, I find that this might be a semi-autobiographical book, as Leo Fife seems to have followed in Russell Banks footsteps in many of his early life events.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Warning: I just read a book about a man sharing his memories as he dies of cancer, and I hated it. Hence, this review is not going to be nice. Let me theorize, based more on hunches than evidence: an embarrassing amount of 20th Century American literature is about rites of passage in the lives of upper-middle-class white American heterosexual males. The mid-century practitioners of this navel-gazing modernism - John Cheever, John Updike, John O'Hara, JD "John" Salinger, ad infinitum - are long g Warning: I just read a book about a man sharing his memories as he dies of cancer, and I hated it. Hence, this review is not going to be nice. Let me theorize, based more on hunches than evidence: an embarrassing amount of 20th Century American literature is about rites of passage in the lives of upper-middle-class white American heterosexual males. The mid-century practitioners of this navel-gazing modernism - John Cheever, John Updike, John O'Hara, JD "John" Salinger, ad infinitum - are long gone, and the generation of writers they inspired - Richard Russo, Paul Auster, the good Mr. Banks, ad infinitum - are desperate to eulogize themselves. Unfortunately for these gentlemen, but fortunately for literature, more women and people of color are being accepted as "serious" writers, so cis-male memento mori like Auster's "1,2,3,4" and this book by Mr. Banks seem about as relevant to modern life as the Pyramids, and more self-indulgent. Read any book by an author whose life and experiences are shaped by the kind of social, cultural or economic forces that have no impact on people like Mr. Banks' protagonist, and the contrast is kind of dispiriting - do we really need books like "Foregone?" Mr. Banks' confessional vessel is a semi-famous Canadian documentary filmmaker named Leonard Fife, who was born in 1940, just like (you guessed it) Mr. Banks and is now dying of cancer. Hs former proteges gather in his Montreal apartment to film him as he discusses his landmark films about draft evaders, cannibals, and sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. Now, that might have been a pretty cool book. Instead, Fife ruminates about all the people he's abandoned in his life, which leads to flashbacks, the flashbacks within the flashbacks, creating multiple narrative arcs which never intersect or resolve. In fairness, Mr. Banks recreates the experience of listening to an old person ramble pretty well. In honesty, it bored me senseless.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Beachbumgarner

    "In seeking redemption for your sins, as Fife claims to be doing, you have to examine your life's continuum back to the point in time when your ethical base first appeared like a firmament between the firmaments, when what you know about the world and the way you acquired that knowledge became for the first time in your life a consciously willed thing. It's the day you ate the apple from the forbidden tree." In Foregone, Leonard Fife, is a famous Canadian documentary film maker who has made a car "In seeking redemption for your sins, as Fife claims to be doing, you have to examine your life's continuum back to the point in time when your ethical base first appeared like a firmament between the firmaments, when what you know about the world and the way you acquired that knowledge became for the first time in your life a consciously willed thing. It's the day you ate the apple from the forbidden tree." In Foregone, Leonard Fife, is a famous Canadian documentary film maker who has made a career out of shining a light on "unhappy truths." He's reached the end of his life, is dying of cancer, and feels compelled to get on the other side of the camera and confess the sins of his life that no one in his life, he says, knows anything about. What he wants is to be seen by his beloved, Emma, for the person he really is and for her to love him regardless. What I have always loved about Banks' writing, in all his books, is that he puts you in the drivers' seat--you always know what is to your left and right, what is behind and before you. You are right there with the main character. You know the weather, the wind, the smells in the air. His memories seem to be yours. The other thing I appreciate about Banks is that he knows Guilt--how it looks on people, how it manifests in them, how it resides around them, it's relationship to shame, grief, regret. Whether it's parents grieving dead children (the Sweet Hereafter) or an alcoholic son being spurned by his father for his weakness (Affliction), you are there and understand what you're looking at, feel the depth of the hole that's been dug. Because Leonard is at the end of life, he has many life lessons to pass on, much wisdom along with his regrets, and although those filming him would like him to admit to a mere anecdotal life, he refuses that line of questioning and presents something much larger and fuller and more real. Whether or not it is true is another question...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Deborah

    Russell Banks is such a masterful writer that a new novel from him is an event. As anticipated, there is powerful prose here and skilled plotting. Alas, I wish I’d cared for it more. Leo Fife is in his late 70s, and dying of cancer. He was part of the wave of Vietnam draft dodgers and deserters who made their way to Canada in the 60s and 70s. Since then, he made a life in Canada as a documentary filmmaker revered by the left. He has invited Malcolm, a former film student, himself a documentary f Russell Banks is such a masterful writer that a new novel from him is an event. As anticipated, there is powerful prose here and skilled plotting. Alas, I wish I’d cared for it more. Leo Fife is in his late 70s, and dying of cancer. He was part of the wave of Vietnam draft dodgers and deserters who made their way to Canada in the 60s and 70s. Since then, he made a life in Canada as a documentary filmmaker revered by the left. He has invited Malcolm, a former film student, himself a documentary filmmaker, to his Montreal home to film what Malcolm believes will be a deathbed retrospective of Leo’s career. Leo, however, has other plans. He intends to confess, on camera, to Emma, his producing partner and wife of nearly four decades, to what he believes to be a life built of lies and betrayal. The action in the present never leaves the filming in Leo and Emma’s apartment, but Leo’s story takes us back to the 50s and 60s, to his youth and young manhood. Part of Banks’s skill is in making it unclear how much of Leo’s confession is true—he’s on powerful painkillers and many other medications, and one of his doctors has made it clear to Emma that one common side-effect of the drugs is confabulation. None of Leo’s secrets and lies are as shocking as he seems to feel they are. At bottom, his deepest failing seems to have been his consistent inability to properly love those who have loved him and a series of shabby betrayals. My strongest memory of the book will be the ghoulish film crew, continuing to film Leo as he rapidly fades, against the protests of his wife and the nurse, in eager anticipation of capturing Leo’s actual death on film. Yuck!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    Leonard Fife is on his deathbed. As a legendary filmmaker, he decides to bare his soul and allows his former team to film his dying thoughts. They are convinced they will be filming his thoughts on his career, but instead, Fife chooses to confess to his wife Emma the true life he lived. Or, is it? What is reality; what the public knows, what Emma knows and believes, or is it all a delusion? It's an interesting look at the thoughts of a dying man. He feels as if his memories are crystal clear, an Leonard Fife is on his deathbed. As a legendary filmmaker, he decides to bare his soul and allows his former team to film his dying thoughts. They are convinced they will be filming his thoughts on his career, but instead, Fife chooses to confess to his wife Emma the true life he lived. Or, is it? What is reality; what the public knows, what Emma knows and believes, or is it all a delusion? It's an interesting look at the thoughts of a dying man. He feels as if his memories are crystal clear, and if time flows through his words, but as the story moves on it is harder to determine the truth from his jumbled memories. Fife is convinced he has to tell his wife the truth about his past in order to know, when he dies, that she loves the real him; so that someone can know him and love him anyway. The story he spins - it is difficult to determine what the truth is. The filming, which the story is based upon, takes place over just a few hours, and is done in a method Fife himself made famous throughout history; a dark, noir film of a darkened room and Fife under a spotlight telling his story. Getting to know Fife through his memories paints a very different picture of the man we first thought we were meeting. I found this book to be thought provoking and intriguing, if not a little confusing at times, as Fife switches between the past and present and as his thoughts become more and more disjointed. What is the reality of memory; are our thoughts and memories really the truth of our lives? Does reality change, or do we?

  29. 4 out of 5

    Vicki

    “Foregone” by Russell Banks, Ecco, 320 pages, March 2, 2021. Leonard Fife, a documentary filmmaker, fled to Canada to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam war. He is now in his late 70s and is dying of cancer. Fife agrees to Malcolm MacLeod’s request to film an interview with him. MacLeod was a former student. Fife is addressing his comments to his wife, Emma. But the truth of his story is questionable because of the medication he is taking. Malcolm wants Fife to talk about his films and how he unc “Foregone” by Russell Banks, Ecco, 320 pages, March 2, 2021. Leonard Fife, a documentary filmmaker, fled to Canada to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam war. He is now in his late 70s and is dying of cancer. Fife agrees to Malcolm MacLeod’s request to film an interview with him. MacLeod was a former student. Fife is addressing his comments to his wife, Emma. But the truth of his story is questionable because of the medication he is taking. Malcolm wants Fife to talk about his films and how he uncovered the testing of Agent Orange. But Fife wants to talk about his personal life. Fife ran away from home in Massachusetts as a teenager. He left his first wife, Amy, and young daughter, Heidi, when he was 20. They married five weeks after they met. He left his pregnant second wife, Alicia, and young son, Cornel, when her father and uncle wanted him to take over their multi-million dollar company in Virginia. Also at the interview are Vincent, the cameraman, Diana, the producer, and Sloan, the sound technician, who react to what Fife says. This book is a stream of consciousness dialogue as Fife remembers his life. Fife isn’t likable and he is very egotistical. His dialogue is broken only by the others comments and his wife’s repeated protests about the interview. The novel is very slow-moving and much of it is confusing. In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jean-Luc

    "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 d "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 Ecco for giving me the opportunity to read this wonderful novel prior to its release date

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