Book Review: 'Falling Out Of Time'

Alan Cheuse reviews the odd little novel Falling Out of Time, by Israeli writer David Grossman.

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"Falling Out of Time" is the name of a new novel by Israeli writer David Grossman. Our reviewer Alan Cheuse calls it a dramatic meditation on grief, reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town." [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The book was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen.]

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The book opens with an immediate dramatic gesture, as narrated for us by the seemingly unbiased town chronicler. As they sit eating dinner, he announces, the man's face suddenly turns. He thrusts his plate away. Knives and forks clang. He stands up and seems not to know where he is. The woman recoils in her chair. Bewildered, the man looks at her and speaks: I have to go. He begins to walk, and the rest of the mourners and grievers of this region - the net mender, the midwife, others - soon follow.

With grief still fresh in his own mind, the town chronicler also sets off to follow them, as does a mythological, grief-stricken centaur. He's a writing, thinking beast who, as he says to the chronicler, can't really understand anything until he writes it down. I must re-create it - he means his grief - in the form of a story, he declaims. The thing that happened to me and my boy, yes, mix it into a story, fire, a bubbling cauldron.

As the mourners walk, the power of the simple language intensifies, becomes a bubbling cauldron of speech and dream and pain. The effects - sorry, old centaur - come off as more play and poetry than story, as a single truth emerges for the high and low characters alike. The person they mourn for is dead, but the death is not dead. The surprising final truth leaps to life from the very first lines of what feels like a powerful Israeli version of our own "Our Town."

This book, as odd as it sounds, I commend to you. Pick it up, pace with it, chant from it aloud.

CORNISH: The book is "Falling Out of Time," written by David Grossman. Our friend Alan Cheuse is publishing another book. He calls it "An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories." It's out next month.

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