Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review: In the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner

In the Land of the Living by Austin Ratner is about fathers,sons and brothers and their complicated relationships. The Auberon men are particularly complicated and there is a darkness to their relationships with each other. The patriarch, Isidore, loses his mother at a young age and suffers at the hand of his demanding, grieving father. He vows to escape his unhappy childhood and to be successful - he makes good on that vow when he attends Harvard and completes medical school. When he has his own two sons, Leo and Mack, Isidore hopes to give them all he never got from his own father. But he is a product of his own upbringing and has limitations which can be seen as his sons grow into young men. Leo and Mack's relationship with each other is also damaged and they try to repair it on a cross country trip. Can the youngest generation break the cycle of dysfunction inherent in this family?

 This story is told in three sections. First is Isidore's story including his difficult upbringing with a distant, difficult father and his ultimate triumph with graduation from medical school after much hard work and perseverance. There is a hopefulness to this section as we see Isidore overcome a difficult childhood and make his dreams become a reality. The second section focuses on Isidore's own family when he marries and has two sons of his own - Leo and Mack. Leo idolizes his father and respects all he had to overcome to give them the lives they have.  Unfortunately, this becomes a set-up for Leo as he hero-worships his father and can never live up to his example or standards. Leo suffers from depression and has difficulty relating to people - even his own brother, Mack. The brothers' relationship is damaged and complicated by losses they have experienced. In the third part of the story, the brothers take a road trip in a last ditch effort to repair their relationship.

My Thoughts
This dark novel is intelligently written and I often found myself reviewing passages and being impressed by the way the words had been put together. The characters, however, are not always likable and that created a distance for me as I read the book. I did cheer for Isidore and felt hopeful seeing him overcome his difficult childhood; I also felt pathos for Leo as I watched him become trapped in a dysfunctional cycle that had been imposed on him by his family. At the same time, however, Leo is a difficult character to like. This is a brilliant design by the author - he is able to make the reader feel discomfort with Leo in the same way that those around Leo in the novel feel about him. All in all, I enjoyed the excellent writing and admired how the author laid out complex family relationships and showed how dysfunction extends through the generations and can be difficult to escape.

For more reviews, please check out others on the TLC Tour .


  1. I know of plenty of books that write about women's relationships so I'm glad to see one out there exploring men's. This sounds interesting.

  2. I just read about this book on another blog today. I really enjoyed your review, Colleen, it's excellent!

  3. I'm glad you enjoyed this one! Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

  4. Wonderful review! i read this one too and really felt for Leo, even at times he he made that difficult.