Whatever came after Kavalier & Clay was definitely going to have a hard time – topping that book will be pretty hard for me, at least in the short-term – but The Reserve was quite bad on its own. With a plot that could easily have fit on a daytime soap and one-dimensional characters, I can safely say that this incursion in Mr. Banks’s prose is a onetime thing.
Jordan Groves is a painter (or artist rather, he does other things besides paint) – well-regarded in society, rich, married to a beautiful and even richer woman and with 2 little boys. Picturesque, isn’t it? Of course, he’s a womanizer, his marriage isn’t particularly happy for either party and he affects communist sympathies. It’s the late 30s – none of this makes him special. Or interesting. But Mr. Banks has chosen him as his hero – the man who will be driven, by his wife’s infidelity, to fight in Spain (and ultimately die there) – and there are pages upon pages filled with his inner life: his thoughts, dreams and aspirations, as it were; one more boring than the other. The way I see it – he’s nothing but a socialite, fooling himself, and others, that he matters in some greater way. His female counterpart is Vanessa Cole, a two-time divorcée famous for her liaisons and apparently rather crazy. When, after her father’s death, her mother attempts to send her to a facility in Switzerland (where she had been admitted before), she goes completely off the rails, kidnaps her mother…and starts the whole chain of events that will destroy a few lives. If I cared about any of the characters involved, or if the progression of events would have made some kind of intrinsic sense; perhaps this particular plot twist wouldn’t have struck me as ridiculous and contrived. Alas, these two terms describe the whole experience perfectly.
The guys at NYT were less than impressed too – and I love how well the movie references they made fit with the book. Other reviewers were kinder – but I still say it’s nothing but a melodramatic waste of time.