Everything about Ethan Canin’s writing is beautiful and meaningful. Each sentence is carefully structured to evoke the exact feelings and response Canin wants to inflict on his readers. A Doubters Almanac is split into two sections. The first section we follow Milo Andret, a genius mathematician, as he grows up and becomes a Professor at Princeton. He drinks and womanizes his way to us unceremonious termination from Princeton. Then Canin switches to the point of view from Hans, Milo’s son. Hans recounts his childhood, growing up with a washed up mathematician for a father. Both of Milo’s children are as mathematically inclines as Milo but Hans is expected to carry on the Andret name.
Canin uses two points of view masterfully for both sections. While we watch Milo’s comings and goings through life, Canin uses more of an objective 3rd point of view. The reader watches Milo but doesn’t get inside his head and hear his feelings. With Hans’ section, Canin moves to a more omniscient point of view and the reader gets to know Hans intimately. We know his fears and worries and joys. It’s a brilliant technique to help us understand these two dynamic characters. My only complaint was Hans’ section time jumped quite a bit. While Mio’s section stayed linear, Hans would move from present to past to further past, back to present. It wasn’t necessarily difficult to follow but sometimes it took me a page or two to figure out what time period we were in.
Even as I was reading A Doubters Almanac, I was recommending it to everyone I talked to. Ethan Canin has a talent and writing craft I haven’t read in a while. I enjoyed his storytelling voice and the deep and raw character analysis Canin presents. I’ll be seeking out his other works, and waiting for his future novels.
By Emily Coleman