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Buy *Confinement* online


Carrie Brown
368 pages
March 2005
rated 3 of 5 possible stars
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Fleeing his native country, Arthur Henning first reaches London with his pregnant wife and young son. There they are caught in the Blitz, Mrs. Henning and newborn baby lost in a bomb raid. Finally settled in America, Arthur carries his son, Toby, and a battered suitcase to a pre-arranged job as chauffeur for the wealthy Duvall family.

Scarred before he ever sets foot in the new country, Arthur remains vaguely hopeful, living a precise and guarded life devoid of complications, his spirit humbled by the loss of joy. Arthur struggles inwardly, haunted by an event witnessed at the hands of Nazi storm troopers - the brutal beating of a surgeon. Bystanders watch helplessly, unable to intervene as the man's hands are crushed beneath the boots of the Storm troopers. This remnant of memory lingers in Henning's subconscious; he can never forget the nightmare of being Jewish in Hitler's Germany.

The years pass, and Toby grows up in his father's shadow, witness to the excesses of the Duvall's and a prosperity they will never enjoy. Agatha, the Duvall's daughter and a year younger than Toby, is frequently left in Arthur's care when her mother is indisposed. Then, when a dismayed Arthur is ordered to deliver a pregnant Aggie to a home for unwed mothers, he is stunned by the Duvall's curt dismissal of their daughter. Arthur keeps track of the baby, a boy, after the adoption, making this surveillance his personal mission. Losing track of the adoptive family, Arthur is thrown once more into despair, especially when the now-grown Toby leaves home without a word.

Years later, while driving through a familiar neighborhood, Arthur sees the child again. This event marks a new beginning, an opening of Arthur's long-stifled heart. Through the abiding friendship of Agatha, Arthur finds his way back to contentment, ambivalent about whether to tell her that he has located her son. This is a story born of loss, bridging Hitler's Europe and the American dream lived from the outside as Arthur eventually disentangles from the manacles of his own past, finding redemption in the unknowable future and a newly awakened sense of freedom.

What might have been an engaging novel unfortunately crumbles under the burden of weighty prose, endlessly complicated by Arthur's musings on the past mixed with the present. The author's use of description is better than average but consistently overwrought. It is difficult to separate one element or time frame from another in the story. All in all, this is an ambitious effort by the author of The Hatbox Baby, another novel that never quite reaches its potential.

Confinement will please a certain audience, but the familiar themes could benefit from a more creative approach. The plot is interesting, but, like The Hatbox Baby, the story never quite delivers the emotional punch it promises. Arthur Henning has all the makings of a memorable protagonist but lacks the passion to raise him above the average displaced and lonely immigrant.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Luan Gaines, 2005

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