Books: Searching for a State of Grace

Fathers and sons. Blacks and whites. Russell Banks takes on the big issues

The professor removes his tweed jacket, hangs it on the back of a chair and prepares to teach what is widely acknowledged to be unteachable. Things are going well for him. His big new novel, Cloudsplitter (HarperCollins; 758 pages; $27.50), about the raging, God-haunted 19th century abolitionist John Brown, is about to hit the bookstores, and he has learned this very day that director Atom Egoyan's movie of his novel The Sweet Hereafter has earned two Academy Award nominations. Another film, drawn from his novel Affliction and starring Nick Nolte, is ready for distribution. He smiles. Equal to equal, a diamond...

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