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Blue River

If Ethan Canin’s celebrated debut story collection, Emperor of the Air (1988), was remarkable for its variations in tone, his first novel is notable mostly for its unremitting sentimentality. Blue River is the history of two brothers in their 30s — a good, yuppie doctor and a subversive, amoral drifter — told by the former when they are reunited after a 15-year estrangement. Hoping for forgiveness, the doctor writes an epic letter to his brother reexamining the childhood incident that savaged the boys’ mutual trust and scarred them emotionally. Canin is an elegant stylist, but his narrator’s terminal earnestness makes you wish the bad brother had told the story. B

Blue River
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