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Monday, May 23, 2011

The Illumination--Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination is a book of seven short stories each linked at a single point through a single device.  It tells the story of a diary of love notes that passes from hand to hand and the stories of those individuals who receive the diary.

Beyond that, I have little to say for the novel.  It is well written.  There are parts that are compelling.  There are characters about whom you want to know more--but the necessarily brief space allotted each does not really allow for a deep understanding of each character.

I suppose I would speaking too strongly to say that I was disappointed in the book; but there is some truth to the statement.  It never seemed to gel for me in the way something like The Imperfectionists, which is constructed along the same lines, did.  The novel didn't seem to have so much an ending as a stopping point.  But I don't know what more I could have asked from it or form its unique device.  You see, the illumination is an event at which every human pain and injury suddenly becomes visible to all around.  Each wound, each illness, each pain shows through by the light it gives off.

Perhaps some of the disappointment isn't with the book so much as it is with the idea that this sudden change in things illicits no real change from the human beings whom it effects.  After a brief shift in perception, things return to much the way they were.  Here, injury and pain shines out and begs for consolation, and as human we develop new ways to shield ourselves from it, to politely deny it.  That observation in itself has a profound strain of truth--we are creatures who cannot accept too much pain.  We spend much of our lives seeking a remedy for our various bodily aches and pains--sometimes, depending upon the source of that relief, destroying the bodies themselves.  Our recourse to instantaneous relief of pain, often causing yet more damage.

So, in sum, the stories and characters are interesting, the plot device compelling, but the novel never seems to come together as a complete story--it never really has a resolution.  And the two devices of illumination and diary seem almost too much for a single book.  All that said, the book is fine writing, and perhaps I am overly harsh in my view of it.

Recommended--****

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