Book Shelf: A Good American by Alex George
By Brooke Lehmann
Unlikely novelist Alex George has been practicing law for the majority of his adult life. Originally hailing from England, George started out on a gallant quest to establish a new life in the 'land of the free', the Sardanapalian utopia of the western world, America.
Having established himself in the legal realms of London and Paris, the pilgrimage that ensued seemed to mirror that of his ancestors, when decades earlier his grandparents migrated from England to New Zealand, and later his mother taking the same path, only in reverse. However trivial this information might seem to the common reader, this enlightening tidbit seems to add a certain fundamental truth to the narrative of George's debut novel, A Good American (Penguin).
The plot does not follow the conventional blueprint of many novels, focusing instead on the journey of several generations of the one family – the Meisenheimer's – rather than one single person or storyline. It follows the migration of grandparents from an orthodox and unforgiving family in Germany, to their hasty flee to America in search of new horizons after a shock pregnancy, to the life and times of their children and grandchildren.
As the story unfolds, we follow the gawky German family as they find their way amongst a foreign and patriotic people while forming their own sense of self. The story entails two of the generation's guileless and at times tedious romances, however the narrative later changes from its wistful and romantic tales to a somewhat crass and frank portrayal of another's experience of adolescence. Despite this somewhat disappointing change of pace, the story redeems itself and is rounded out with a relatively merry conclusion for all parties involved.
A project six years in the making, A Good American displays the assiduous nature with which the story was met and boasts George's natural flair for articulation. His vocabulary will stretch the average reader's comprehension and delight the linguistic enthusiast with such words as 'glissando', 'fecundity', 'nomenclature' and 'splenetic' making a frequent appearances. George's often poetic turn of phrase promotes an almost romanticised air to the narrative and creates a congenial fluidity that continues throughout the novel.
An insightful perspective into the history of America from the early 1900s to the early 2000s, and the migrants that navigated the century, A Good American delivers a compelling fictional account and has set a standard high for this new novelist.