Kate, a grieving, semi-alcoholic film student, invites an elderly woman to take part in an oral-history documentary. Jean declines, but makes her a bizarre counter-offer: if Kate can stay sober for four days, she will tell her a story. If she can stay sober beyond that, there will be another, and then another, amounting to the entire history of one family’s life.
Gradually, Jean offers a heart-breaking account, not only of her own history – a lost lover, a family scarred by war – but of the American century itself; as a deep connection emerges between the women which will transform both of their lives.
What does it mean to live with integrity in the United States of America? That is the question haunting John Burnside’s new novel… The way that Burnside layers these stories is masterful, and becomes a meditation on storytelling itself.
A book of wintry landscapes, family secrets and alcoholism, but it's also a paean to the art of listening well that is especially welcome after the last 12 months of stridency…Burnside, who is also an accomplished poet, writes lyrical rose with virtuoso ease…Ashland & Vine is built on the trust that evolves between talker and listener; the movement of a mind trapped in its own uncertainties and a series of tableaux which build to a strange and stirring kind of redemption.
This is a novel that will no doubt be catching the eyes of judges of major prizes in 2017.
Ashland and Vine is a great book… It proceeds with such loping grandeur and is so tight-lipped about its themes that it takes a while for the realization to dawn that it is nothing short of an American epic. That, however, is what Burnside has written: a drifty, dreamy, dramatic epic.
Ashland & Vine proposes solace and joy in intergenerational friendship, and an optimism in what can be accomplished through talking and listening.