Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumination premature mini-review

January 30, 2011

Kevin Brockmeier’s new novel The Illumination goes on sale Tuesday, February 1. Were I more conscientious or less busy — this next week is going to be hard and, if things go as planned, I’ll be traveling at the end of it — I’d have a review for you now. But I don’t — I’m planning on running a review in the newspaper on February 8.

But just because i haven’t read the whole book — I’m a little more than halfway through, having wrestled it away from Karen a couple of nights ago — doesn’t mean I can do a little blog post about it. (Actually this comes as sort of a revelation to me — I’m conditioned to withhold judgment until I’ve actually got some idea what a work means and so I rarely write about anything before I’ve digested it. But there is real value in letting people know what’s out there, and maybe even in sharing initial reactions. I’m learning.)

Anyway, The Illumination is another wistful spiritual driven by Kevin’s quiet yet firm voice; a beautifully sorrowful and deeply empathetic work that is touched here and there by flaring points of grace. It’s about a world in which pain glows and shimmers, a phenomenon that scientists don’t understand but which everyone gets used to fairly quickly. And it’s about the voyage of a keepsake volume of copied love notes, which passes from the hands of its dying owner to a disappointed woman suffering the aftershocks of a failed marriage, back to the widowed husband who’d originally composed the notes, to a little boy so tender he feels the hurt of objects, to a Fellowship Bible missionary, to an author and on to a homeless man.

The book may be of particular interest to locals, because Brockmeier is from Little Rock and seems to have located his fiction is a kind of shadow city that resembles his home town. On the other hand, Brockmeier’s real territory is the lost valley of the human heart, a Shangri-la deemed mythical by moderns disinclined to believe in miracles. Whatever your degree of faith, Brockmeier maps his imaginary province with a specificity that sometimes stings — and gleams.


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