Review: The Reserve

Russell Banks (2008)

The Reserve has all the makings of fine literary noir. It’s set during the Great Depression in a wealthy enclave of the Adirondacks, where a beautiful femme fatale with a secret lures a successful artist toward certain doom. They meet when Jordan Groves lands his plane on the lake to meet with Vanessa Cole’s father, a powerful businessman Jordan hopes to add to his list of affluent clients. The attraction between the twice-divorced Vanessa and the married family man Jordan is immediate and, of course, ill fated.

Around eighty pages in, just when you think you know how this story is going to play out, you hit an unexpected twist and suddenly this isn’t exactly the kind of book you thought you were reading. That’s when The Reserve becomes a real page-turner.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sustain itself and after a few more turns (but not many interesting twists) the story shifts from noir to melodrama. The conclusion is neither interesting nor satisfying. Ominous flash-forwards, interspersed between chapters, detract from the book, serving to interrupt the thrust of the story, hinting at a meaningful denouement that never comes.

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