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Gone Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge

Gone Tomorrow

by P.F. Kluge

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I love books about college town or professors. guess it is what I wanted to be in another life. This book has so much thoughfulness and feeling in each word. I just loved it. it was a great book to curl up with and left me wanted more of Kluge. Think I'll try Eddie and the Crusers next. ( )
  K138261 | Dec 30, 2009 |
Wow. How did he do that? Pull it out of a hat, fully formed?

I finished reading Gone Tomorrow by P.F. Kluge this afternoon. I really swam through this one. I consider this first encounter with Kludge to be one of the most pleasing, smoothest books I have read in a while.

Highly articulate and entertaining with plenty of good twists and turns to the plot. College writing professor/author/undergraduates at a fictitious Ohio school, academic politics, sex that was completely congruent with this adult story of the end of the professor's career and remembrances of his life at the school and his "great-life's-work novel" which is long, long over due to be published and might not even exist in manuscript. Great dialogue, glimpses of love and hatred. Did I mention marvelous characters? No? Well ... they are here in spades. Enjoy them.

Wow. How did he do it? My best guess is that he is a talented writer deserving of the praise he receives. More Kludge for me, thank you.

Four and a half stars. Two thumbs way up.

WH/Ruth ( )
5 vote womansheart | Sep 11, 2009 |
I’ve always loved academic novels. Perhaps it’s because academia was a career choice I reluctantly abandoned in order to go to law school; perhaps it’s because I still would like to get that Ph.D. in English someday; perhaps it’s because my husband is a university professor. Or maybe it’s just because academic novels are set in such an interesting milieu that I just can’t resist, a place where (based upon the fiction I read, not contacts with my husband’s colleagues) backbiting, backstabbing and gossip battle it out with intellectual passions, eccentric personalities and interesting conversation. Most academic novels seem to be satires, but this one is different: it is a sort of rueful love letter to academe.

The hero of Gone Tomorrow is George Canaris, a creative writing professor who turned out two very well received novels before he came to teach at a small college in Ohio. In the decades since joining the faculty as a tenured professor holding an endowed chair, however, he has published nothing but a book of essays he had completed before his first school year began. He refers often to a gargantuan work-in-progress he calls The Beast, but there is a real question as to whether this novel actually exists or is all talk.

When the novel opens, we learn that Canaris has died shortly after being forcibly retired from his teaching job, the victim of a hit-and-run accident. His literary executor, a young faculty member whose own writing has slowed since he came to the college, is puzzled to have been chosen for the job, but excited at the prospect of coming across the manuscript to the long-awaited novel Canaris had supposedly been working on all these years. As this faculty member says in the introduction to the book (the frame, as it were), however, what he discovers when going through Canaris’s home isn’t The Beast, but a different book altogether: “Memoir or fantasy or practical joke? The book is printed precisely as I found it.”

Canaris’s manuscript follows. It is divided into alternating chapters, Now (June, 2005, for the first chapter) and Then (August, 1970 for the second chapter; the dates move forward from those two parallel starting points).

“Then” describes Canaris’s decision to move to Ohio after the publication of his second novel, and how Ohio and the small college at which he teaches seduce him. “Now,” 35 years later, Canaris is essentially fired, forcibly retired in favor of someone much like himself when he came to Ohio: a hot-shot writer who will bring some good publicity to the college. No one really remembers who Canaris is anymore, except that he has a novel on that famous list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. And certainly no one really believes that he has a book he’s been working on all these years.

For teaching has proven to be seductive: seeing children enter the college as freshmen and leave four years later as adults, a number of them having taken his creative writing course in between (some performing well, some miserably, but all remembering him with fondness and even love). He loves everything about the academic life, from the way the beautiful campus changes with the seasons to intellectual yet comfortable conversations with close friends among his colleagues to the constant exposure to books and ideas. The words of a fellow faculty member when he first arrived prove prophetic:

"Canaris, this is a place that eats careers, ambitions, talent. It will destroy you if you let it. Not maliciously. Fondly, smilingly, appreciatively. It will flow into every crevice of your life, occupy every vacuum, claim every moment of rest and silence, if you let it[.]"

As Canaris muses in a pause in a speech to alumni during his final year of teaching:

"At the end of it all – now that it turned out my career was ending – what I felt was gratitude. Gratitude for what? For time to write. That had been the plan, at the start. But other things came into it. The teaching, the gossip, the students who had mattered – my biographer might say – far more than they should have."

Canaris’s manuscript is thus ultimately about creativity and how comfort is its enemy. Yes, Canaris writes about working on The Beast all those years, but there never seems to be any urgency to the project. More important to him are the women who pass through his life, the students, the colleagues. He lives a life of the mind, yes, but whether that actually includes any writing is not entirely clear. It seems to, but in the end, is The Beast real or a fiction he maintains with as much effort as he wrote his first three books? We learn much about this book, including its genesis in Canaris’s own history. We travel with Canaris to Karlsbad, the town of his birth, the town his Jewish parents fled with him in their arms to escape Hitler – the town that provides the setting for his book. We live with his characters in the same way he does.

In the “Now,” we live with Canaris through his final year on the faculty of the nameless rural Ohio college. Canaris is bitter about his ejection, but it seems accidental that he manages to start a revolt of sorts among the alumni at his forced retirement. Either Canaris is naïve or very clever, and he doesn’t reveal which it is in his book. The consequences, however, are extreme for some, and ultimately rather lovely for him. Well, except for that hit-and-run that kills him, of course.

The Afterword, also written by the literary executor, provides a final piece to the frame – or at least one that must serve as the final piece, as one mystery is never solved. The literary executor now knows what he stands to lose, and what he stands to gain, by building his career at this small college, a place beloved by many and resented by some – including by some of those who consider it beloved.

I saw much of my own college in this book. I attended a small private college on the western edge of Illinois that I loved with all my heart while I was there, and still love today, though I haven’t been back in decades. This book awakened in me all the joy I took in that place, in its glorious fall colors, its stubbornly tardy springs, the many, many books I read while I was there, how I learned, more than anything, to ask questions (I seemed to graduate with few answers, but oh, I knew so well how to ask questions!). I remembered the professors like Canaris, who would casually mention a book that I should read, a book that would become one of my lifelong favorites; my creative writing teacher, Don Erickson, whose notes on my adolescent scribbling I still have today; drinking beer and eating cheese popcorn at a horrible little bar with the chairmen of the English and Speech Departments and the president of the college, solving all the world’s problems. Kluge perfectly captures the love and joy that my student experiences embody, though from the viewpoint of those for whom I was simply another soul passing through. And he captures a life, too – one different from what the man who came to the campus in 1970 thought he was going to live, but one that was precious in every moment nonetheless.

Gone Tomorrow is a marvelous book, a genuine pleasure to read. Few books have reached my heart so completely. Sharply observed, wryly told, with pellucid prose, Gone Tomorrow deserves a wide audience. Kluge is a new author to me, but I will certainly be reading more from his pen, as he toils away at the small Ohio college (Kenyon College, in Gambier, Ohio) where he is a writer in residence. ( )
  TerryWeyna | Jun 22, 2009 |
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Every morning in Gambier, Ohio I have coffee with friends. This story is for them.
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George Canaris is the first faculy member of this college in half a century whose death merited an obituary in the New York Times.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159020090X, Hardcover)

When George Canaris, a writing professor on the verge of forced retirement at a small college in Ohio, is killed by a hit-and-run driver, he is the first faculty member in half a century whose death merits an obituary in The New York Times. "A writer, a critic, a professor, a campus legend and a national figure, the very embodiment of the liberal arts," says the paper. And a mystery. "Compared to Faulkner and Dos Passos at the start of his career," the Times observed, "in the end he resembled Harper Lee."

With a book listed among the one hundred greatest novels of all time, decades now separating him from the hefty advance taken on his next book, The Beast, and not a page to show of it, Canaris is an enigma. Inevitably, speculation grows that the book was a myth, a lie, a joke.

Upon his death, Mark May, a young English professor who barely knew him finds himself named as Canaris's literary executor and begins a search through lives and letters that is at once gripping, hilarious, and affirming. A true page-turner, Gone Tomorrow is equal parts Richard Russo and Michael Chabon, and yet entirely unlike anything you've ever read.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:02 -0400)

When an acclaimed writer and college professor is killed in a hit-and-run accident, speculations about his unwritten final novel run rampant in the intellectual community, prompting his literary executor to begin a search through the professor's personal records.… (more)

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