Book Review: Kevin Brockmeier's 'Illumination'
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Our book reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says intelligence fantasy writing is hard to find, but that Arkansas writer Kevin Brockmeier is the exception to the rule. His latest novel is called "The Illumination," and Alan raves it's one of the best fantasy novels he's read in a very long time.
ALAN CHEUSE: What if human pain and suffering expressed itself as light? That's the premise of Kevin Brockmeier's beautiful new novel in which illness and injuries, from shaving cuts to the direst cancers, produce varying amounts of blazing light in the bodies of the sick and injured.
The novel opens on a Friday evening, half an hour before the light struck, as we hear. A woman named Carol Ann Page slices off part of her thumb while cutting open a package from her ex-husband. And after immediate surgery at a nearby hospital, her hand begins to glow. This phenomenon, this strange illumination of the injured, as Brockmeier calls it, seems to have become worldwide.
When Ms. Page's hand becomes infected, her glow increases, and she has to return to the hospital for treatment. That's when she picks up a notebook filled with love notes left behind by an accident victim whose light goes out as she dies. This notebook is a compilation of daily messages from a husband to the deceased accident victim.
I love the way you stand at the mirror in the morning picking the lip balm from your lips. I love that first moment at night when you trace the curve of my ear with your fingernail. I love the smell of your perfume on my shirts. I love watching the sunset from the roof with you. I love seeing your number appear on my cell phone.
The notebook soon passes out of Page's hands into the serial possession of five other people: a school boy, the victim of bullies, a Christian missionary, a news photographer, a writer and a street vendor, in round after round of suffering and visual brilliance.
By the end, I imagined that if I tore a page from the novel itself, the binding would give off a sharp and penetrating light.
BLOCK: The book is called "The Illumination" by Kevin Brockmeier.
Our reviewer Alan Cheuse teaches writing at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
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