Divisadero, By Michael Ondaatje

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The Independent Culture

Michael Ondaatje's first novel for seven years opens in 1970s northern California, where a widower farmer has raised two daughters, Anna and Claire, and an orphaned boy, Cooper. By the time they are teenagers, Anna and Cooper share a love that is more than filial and will lead to the violent dissolution of the family. Ondaatje sets his characters adrift, and then we catch up with them years later, while the first Gulf War is played out on TVs in the background. Anna is an academic studying a dead French poet and having an affair with a Gypsy guitarist. Claire is a legal assistant. Cooper is a professional gambler.

Divisadero is about incomplete people living divided lives, and in this respect is more frustrating than Ondaatje's other exercises in elliptical storytelling. His writing is still graceful, and still spotted with sharp insights into the human heart and mind. But the old fashioned pleasures of really getting to know the characters, and of a good story coming together, are this time denied us.