Charles Baxter’s The Feast of Love is a novel that should star Kevin Spacey in its movie version (a Google search just revealed the book was made into a movie last year; Kevin Spacey wasn’t in it). Or at least the subdued Bradley W. Smith, whose narrative voice is central to a multi-voiced meditation on love, would ideally be cast as Spacey in a movie version of the book.
Spacey tends to play the middle class lonesome loser who sort of redeems himself, or gains something by the end of the film. Like those many Spacey characters — I’m thinking specifically of American Beauty, without all the darkness of that comedy — Bradley is the lonesome loser type, a manager of a mall coffee shop, who loses two wives, but in the end gains, at least for a brief moment, the love he’s searching for.
Using multiple narratives, Baxter plays a metafictional game, opening the novel with the novelist Charlie Baxter trying to write a novel: the novelist then goes about interviewing the characters, and the characters then go on telling the story with multiple voices. Baxter masters the multiple narrative, without losing the reader.
Bradley’s narrative is central to this novel: the coffee shop he manages — Jitters — draws in several of the other characters: Esther and Harry Ginsberg (though they also happen to be Bradley’s neighbors), Diana, and Chloe and Oscar, all of whom, in turn, relate their own love stories. Bradley’s love life is also a narrative hub around which the other narrators circle, from which they then branch out on their own narrative spokes, sometimes relating their own stories, sometimes commenting on the lives of others.
Bradley’s love-lost-love-gained narrative also generates the thematic arc of the other characters, the most interesting of which is the love-lost-love-gained story of Chloe and Oscar, a young punk-rock couple with, oddly, middle-class aspirations. Both abandoned by their families, they pursue a tragicomic, vaguely Romeo-Juliet love story, Oscar’s father Mac Metzger — the Bat — serving as both Montague and Capulet, forbidding, yet never stopping, the couple’s love. Their story serves the theme, deepening its meaning. Unlike Bradley, Chloe never loses at love; it’s never brief, even when it’s threatened by the sinister-yet-ridiculous figure of the Bat.
Even the appearance of loss — Oscar’s death — doesn’t deter Chloe or her love. She works through her grief, encouraged by love, by her belief that somehow Oscar will return to her.
“Once someone has bound your heart,” she says, “he’s the only person who can let it loose again. I’m waiting, Charlie (the novelist). I’m patient. I don’t ever want my heart unchained, except by him.”