I found this title on a list of Best American Literature books. Among the predictable other choices, this is the only one I’d never encountered – I’d not heard of either the title or the author. Surprised (and amused that this title is published by Europa Editions), I picked it up.
And I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book – for several reasons.
It’s remarkably new, or is it modern? I thought more time would be needed before someone could write a meaningful novel that includes Obama’s election, but here it is. Erickson is strangely coy with names. In fact, I knew enough to know that Bob was someone, so I checked a review to find out who he is. I wish I hadn’t. I would have figured it out a few pages later.
It’s also modern because it focuses on a family facing foreclosure and the details and humiliations involved.
I don’t think I’m doing the book justice yet.
Erickson’s protagonist thinks hard about race, about why he and his wife have adopted an Ethiopian child, about why he’s creating a character who is black, about the meaning of Obama’s election, etc..
I read in the review I should not have consulted and in a review of another book somewhere in this blogosphere I’m still exploring a concern about the way author’s use coincidences. I just finished teaching A Tale of Two Cities in class, and wasn’t he the master of coincidence? So when is a coincidence contrived and when does it work for the novel?
The so-called coincidences work here, I think, because they support the amazing structure of the novel. It’s so interwoven it would require a visual aid to explain it. That’s not to say it’s confusing, just as tightly plotted as it is fragmented. Each section is no longer than a few pages. Many are just a few paragraphs. There are no chapter breaks.
Still, there are parts that made me wonder – that the protagonist and his wife have named their own child Parker (after the musician), that the somewhat-too-wise Sheba (the adopted child) seems to have music coming from her. (Erickson does make that name, bestowed on her by the protagonist and his wife, mean something.)
Erickson’s writing is as elegant as his plotting. He takes it up a notch with the section that focuses on Bob, and I expected a let down. I didn’t think he could sustain it. He does.
The ending is beautiful, on par, in my mind, with the end of Gatsby. It’s not as hypnotic as Fitzgerald’s prose, but that wouldn’t suit this prose. The last two paragraphs are great; they are music. But the last sentence, a stunning 16 lines in all (including a haunting lack of a capital letter) just blew me away.