Sunday, September 11, 2011

Things to Read, Drinks to Drink: Charles Baxter's The Soul Thief & Segura Viudas Cava


Charles Baxter's The Soul Thief & Segura Viudas Cava



A slim, complex, and completely engrossing novel, Chales Baxter's The Soul Thief is a book that's hard to describe without revealing too much. A good deal of the pleasure derived from reading it comes from Baxter's delicate and precise prose. (This is obvious to Baxter's readers perhaps, but to put it plainly: Baxter is one hell of a sentence writer, a writer of such consideration that the pages fly, even as the situations and characters Baxter presents grow ever more complicated and difficult.) Baxter has wit to spare, but the book is never didactic, never obvious, which is a feat given that the setting of the first half of the book is a graduate program at SUNY Buffalo, a school whose reputation for poetic seriousness and the study of critical theory precedes it. As such, the book is shot through with references to classical composers both popular and obscure, and mentions of (and quotations from) dead writers abound. Brilliantly and thankfully, these details aren't present to polish Baxter's bonafides, but to lend his characters depth and dimensionality.

The novel's protagonist, Nathaniel Mason, is a serious student and is seriously a wreck. He's got a strong moral compass, but runs headlong in to moral quandaries of his own making. He's got the brain of a savant, but is easily confused and agitated. He's the model of academic asceticism, but his self-neglect becomes a kind of dangerous self-torture. And then things really go off the rails...

It's a deceptively straightforward sounding novel in some respects (graduate students studying and screwing and drinking and talking shop have difficult and interesting and ecstatic times even while a dark pallor hangs over them) and a slim book to boot, but it was, hands-down, one of the best reading experiences I've had in a long while.



That got me thinking of those refined alcoholic beverages that, on the surface, may appear uncomplicated or common. Best among these, perhaps, are the Spanish sparkling whites called Cavas. And among those dry, often floral or nutty, effervescent wines is a commonly available and completely delicious series of bottles from the maker, Segura Viudas.

Located in the Pened├Ęs region (in Catalonia, near the French border and on the Mediterranean), Segura Viudas has become all too common in American wine shops and restaurants in the last decade. And for good reason: it's wines are absolutely delicious and they're completely affordable. In the $10 range, the Extra Dry is well worth keeping on hand just for the hell of it. Look a bit harder and spend a bit more (around $21) and try the Brut Heredad. While it comes in a goofy, ostentatious looking bottle, it's lighter in color and more delicate in flavor than either the Extra Dry or the Brut Reserva and is great with a variety of foods. Incidentally, it's also great while sitting in a bar finishing an exacting, beautifully written, surprisingly illusive novel.

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