Novel of the week
The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter
The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter (Pantheon, $20)
Charles Baxter’s slim new novel is “so craftily constructed” that readers should savor it twice, said Maureen Corrigan in The Washington Post. It has profound thoughts to share about how time and circumstance alter identity. But its “delicious” surface intrigue arrives courtesy of an enigmatic 1970s grad student—named Jerome Coolberg—who seems to find sick pleasure in appropriating the narrator’s life and personal history. We come to that story some 30 years later, long after the narrator has put behind him a treacherous love triangle and a resulting breakdown, said James Marcus in the Los Angeles Times. Coolberg, who has become an L.A.-based radio host, asks his erstwhile pawn to join him on air, and Baxter handles the resulting encounter “with satirical relish.” Because the author of The Feast of Love manages everything to that point so masterfully, “it saddens me to report that the climax is a hackneyed bit of metafictional whimsy.” But The Soul Thief remains a rewarding read despite that “tacked on” twist, said Art Winslow in the Chicago Tribune. “Scene by scene and sentence by sentence,” it “sparkles with a tender energy and a tongue-in-cheekiness” that can’t be erased by one false move.