Brockmeier’s The Truth About Celia

I can’t remember the last time I read a book in a matter of two days.  However, I do remember when I last read a book in a single day, because that was 1987, when I started reading Stephen King’s Misery at nine in the morning and finished it at nine at night.  Nowadays I’m lucky to finish a book in a month.

celiaFor my sloth-like slowdown, I’d like to cast blame on the Internet, but I digress.  This is a post about Kevin Brockmeier’s The Truth About Celia, his first novel which is actually more like a novel-in-stories like my own debut.  I think that’s about it when it comes to drawing parallels between myself and Brockmeier, because he’s in an entirely different league when it comes to wordcraft and worldcraft.  Brockmeier fuses reality and fantasy like nobody else.

The book in a sentence: A seven-year-old girl disappears, and the marriage of her father and mother disintegrates.  But of course, it is a whole lot more because Brockmeier has sentences like this one:

It was late December, and the wind was blasting so hard that she could hear airborne pieces of gravel pinging against the bars of the jungle gym.

There’s so much going on in this sentence.  Not only is it a deft blending of two senses, touch and hearing, it also fully describes the park where the action takes place.  Lines like this are all over this book.  Here’s another one:

“I’m here, too,” she replied.  And I sank my forehead onto the worn rope handle of her toy chest.

The magic of this sentence is that I can feel the texture of that rope handle on my forehead, even though Brockmeier never mentions the way it feels.  Furthermore, he sometimes inserts details that don’t quite jibe with the flow of the paragraph.  For example:

Soon after Celia disappeared, their neighbors began to arrive at the door with their condolences.  They said many things.  Thick shocks of grass grow from beneath the fragment of stone wall, spouting from the crevices he cannot reach with the lawmower.

That third sentence is not only outside the scope of the paragraph, it’s in the present tense.  So it really, really stands out, and it probably goes against a lot of rules about writing, but it’s also beautiful and stylistic and Brockmeier makes it work.

My favorite part of the novel was where the mother, Janet, finds herself behind the screen of a movie theater (chapter titled “As the Deck Tilted into the Ocean”).  How Brockmeier manages to make a little strange world out of that odd space she finds is remarkable.  Like his short story “The View from the Seventh Layer,” this one is also list-driven (here, it’s the movies she’s seen), sort of like the way Tim O’Brien operates “The Things They Carried.”

My least favorite chapter was “The Green Children.”  Even though it’s a fine story in its own right, the connection between reality and fiction was too tenuous for me, and it had the effect of taking me out from the central story. And there are places where Brockmeier interjects his authorial presence a little too much, like in the chapter where we see the grown-up, single-mother Celia.  Even though the chapter is told in the third person, we see this statement in the middle of a paragraph: “(I want her to be happy)”.  Is it necessary?  By this point, we know that the narrator of the book is making up these stories, so most likely it’s just Brockmeier prodding us, kicking us out of our comfort zone to force us to remember that there’s still a little girl gone missing.

Still, these are tiny, tiny complaints.  This book is marvelous in so many ways — in the second chapter, Brockmeier jumps from POV to POV with almost every paragraph, and it’s like Tiger Woods driving a golf ball, like Michael Jordan leaping for a dunk, like Roger Federer whipping a forehand.  Brockmeier is a fierce talent, and it’s a joy to read him, to study him, to learn from him.

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