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What We Lost: Based on a True Storyby Dale Peck
"If Peck wants to convince his readers otherwise, he needs to offer more of the history at the heart of the book — his own relations with his father — but the heart of the book is absent. Even so, something hard and nourishing survives these failures. The book does have the virtue of memoir, the high mineral content of something true. It is hard to believe that What We Lost would satisfy its author's critical self; but then again, the criticism would hardly satisfy the novelist." Benjamin Markovits, The Times Literary Supplement (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
Synopses & Reviews
Dale Peck, Sr., grew up extremely poor in rural Long Island in the 1950s, sharing a one-room house with seven brothers and sisters, an abusive mother, and an alcoholic father haunted by his past. When, at fourteen, he is more or less kidnapped by his father and taken to his uncle's farm in upstate New York, the change is remarkable. Dale grows strong and healthy from the strenuous work on the farm, and he develops a loving relationship with his uncle Wallace. For the first time, he knows contentment. But when Dale's mother demands that he return, he is forced to choose between his broken family and the land and uncle he has come to love. It is a decision that will determine his future and the legacy he will pass on to his own son.
In What We Lost, a coming-of-age story that startles in its immediacy and lack of sentimentality, Dale Peck refracts his father's past through the prism of his own vivid imagination, forging a bridge between generations and revealing the dark secrets at the heart of family.
"Accomplished novelist Peck's account of his father's horrific 1950s Long Island childhood is reminiscent of Angela's Ashes....Peck subtly demonstrates how this determined boy will not just endure life, but embrace it." Publishers Weekly
"A childhood you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy....The brief, years-later section tacked on at the end is insubstantial, following, as it does, the scorched earth of what came before." Kirkus Reviews
"Peck's account of his father Dale's horrific upbringing stuns the reader with its juxtaposition of hope, sadness, and loss....The author...again enriches the reader with luminous language, shining like pearls in the midst of his father's wrenching tale." Deborah Donovan, Booklist
"The quality of [Peck's] fiction is a pleasurable shock if all one's read is his criticism. Moving, as I did, from the confused and nasty reviews (which he writes on a computer) to the clear, taut novels (composed in longhand) is like leaving a clanging boardwalk arcade for the roar and whisper of waves on sand. Peck's fiction writing is visceral, risky yet controlled, lyrical and — especially in What We Lost — enormously compassionate." Virginia Vitzthum, Salon.com
"There's a nice short story in all of this, whimpering to be left alone....Peck has a real theme, but he shies away from it, and the fine writing he musters can often seem unattached to the book's real concerns. He ought to have dug deeper." Andrew O'Hagan, The New York Times Book Review
Dale Peck dazzled readers and critics alike with his novels. Now, in What We Lost, he examines new territory with a chilling story of his father's tumultuous childhood.
About the Author
Winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Peck started writing fiction as a freshman at Drew, but really blossomed as a writer in his junior and senior years. He worked closely with several professors in the Drew English department to hone a writing style that would earn him the department's highest honor for his unpublished first novel, All the World, which was his senior honors thesis. All three of Peck's published novels reflect his love of stories and story-telling. Martin and John recounts a gay man's coming of age; The Law of Enclosures, recently made into a movie, shifts the focus to John's parents; and Now It's Time to Say Goodbye places characters from the first two novels on a larger stage, prompting the Los Angeles Times to write that Peck is "one of the few avant-garde writers of any age who is changing the rules for prose fiction." Peck also teaches writing, and does book reviews for publications such as the Village Voice Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, and the New York Times Book Review.
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