Book - 2018
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In the years since his daughter Vanessa moved to America to become a professor of philosophy, Alan Querry has never been to visit. When Vanessa's boyfriend sends word that she has fallen into a severe depression and he's worried for her safety, Alan and daughter Helen fly to New York and take the train to Saratoga Springs. Over the course of six wintry days in upstate New York, the family begins to struggle with questions: Why do some people find living so much harder than others? Is happiness a skill that might be learned or a cruel accident of birth? Is reflection conducive to happiness or an obstacle to it?
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780374279530
Branch Call Number: FIC
Characteristics: 214 pages ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

Alan Querry leaves his quiet home in England to be with his daughter Vanessa in Saratoga Springs, NY. Alan has received an urgent message from Vanessa's boyfriend that she is suffering from severe depression.

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Feb 05, 2019

If you like well written novels that are thoughtful (“…the wisdom of its mixtures; the fortifying power of dappled things.”), long after you have finished reading, then…

Wood spent four years as a literary critic for The Guardian, co-taught literature with Saul Bellow at Boston University, and advocates the pursuit of “vitality” in literature as opposed to hysterical realism (manic characters, frenzied action, chronic length, and digressions from the topic at hand) that he deems plagues modern lit. That all said and all thoughts of schools of literary criticism aside, Upstate is just a grand highly pleasurable read.

Small in focus, Upstate concerns itself with relationships and how they can change and mature. Alan Querry, a 60 year old commercial real estate developer in the north-east of England, thinks constantly of his relationship with the women in his life: the younger woman Candace whom he lives with, his failing mother in an expensive care facility, his ex-wife Cathy who died not long after their divorce, and their two daughters Helen and Vanessa.

Some reviewers cite Alan’s persistent rethinking as a flaw to the book, but I enjoyed roaming around in his head and he tries to make sense of the past, present, and future. He chides himself as being too nonaggressive in business dealings as the reason his firm may be on the brink of insolvency, too much of a spendthrift as he expensively supports his mother in an elderly care facility instead of the less expensive option of taking care of her in his home, too stingy with his time in not being with his daughters in their early years, and berates himself on thinking about himself and his place in life.

Vanessa, with a history of depression from an early age, may have intentionally thrown herself down her front steps in Sarasota Springs, New York. This prompts Vanessa’s partner Josh to email his concerns to Helen resulting in Helen and Alan traveling to be with her to find out how plagued with depression she may be. During the few days this book portrays, Alan’s father perspective changes as he watches and relates to his approaching middle age daughters. As in all of life, but unfortunately often not seen clearly, the characters in Upstate all have choices and potentials.

James Wood’s writing is evocative and often poetic whether it be revealing the relationships above, differences between England the United States, music of the 1980 and the business consequences of digitalization, musings on Thomas Nagel’s essay “The Absurd”, aging, and grief and joy:

“Joy seemed so much more incommunicable than grief. Grief had tears, the visible signs, the obvious rain of sadness, and in that was ultimately childish. Grief took you back to childhood, to the performance that got an adult running: ‘What’s wrong, why are you crying?’ But what was the sign of joy, the sum of joy. Who came running to the joyous one to say, ‘Why are you smiling? Tell me what makes you so happy?’”

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