There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
As metaphors for doomed romance go, the Hindenburg isn’t exactly subtle. But for better or for worse, Russell Banks sends that big damned blimp hovering over the tangled affairs of his new novel, The Reserve. The story is set in 1936 at an Adirondacks private nature reserve, enjoyed by wealthy folk who are barely scratched by the Great Depression. Chief among them are a young socialite, Vanessa Cole, and a well-to-do artist, Jordan Groves (who’s loosely modeled after artist and illustrator Rockwell Kent). Jordan’s character offers Banks a way to explore the severe class divide in the area; the artist earns top dollar for his work while priding himself on being a man of the common people, and his split personality is mirrored by the reserve, which caters to the elite and is managed by the rural poor who live just outside its boundaries. Banks’ novels are usually populated by have-nots, but this time he’s more interested in crafting a more mannered, D.H. Lawrence–esque tale of affairs and betrayals. In time, Jordan’s wife, Alicia, and a reserve guide are drawn into the plot, Vanessa reveals a dark secret, somebody shows up with a shotgun, and…well, the only reason why this love trapezoid doesn’t become completely untenable is because Banks created it. He has a knack for pulling off high-wire stunts—his 1985 masterpiece, Continental Drift, improbably but convincingly connected the fates of a Haitian refugee and a New England oil-burner repairman. The Reserve is a much lesser work, but it transcends its flimsy premise and, thankfully, its climax avoids the obvious, oh-the-humanity blowup. Banks discusses and signs copies of his work at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 29, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.