A Grand And Looping Novel
Kimberly Elkins, What Is Visible (New York: Twelve, 2014)
Elkins’ imaginative and historically rich novel, What Is Visible gives readers immediate access to the world and perception of Laura Bridgman, the first woman to learn language from the efforts of Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who founded the Perkins School for the Blind. Bridgman lost four of her five senses after recovering from Scarlet Fever at age two and arrived at the Perkins Institute when she was seven years old. She became one of the most famous women of the 19th century, yet her celebrity and accomplishments were eclipsed in history by Helen Keller’s.
Elkins’ Laura is a powerful force; her personality emerges instantly on the page fully formed, commanding attention with a distinct and unforgettable voice. She is the primary narrator of the novel, and while every author makes indispensable choices in respect to perspective, tense, and structure, Elkins’ choice of title points to what also is an unavoidable, moral decision: in order to render Laura’s story authentically and with dignity, a narrative in which readers may participate fully, the reader must experience it from Laura’s perspective. This is Elkins’ great achievement. Although Elkins includes other narrative perspectives, What Is Visible, is to my reckoning, ultimately narrated by and for Laura. It’s her story, the story Laura would tell if she were permitted to so:
I want to write out everything—for me, for her—but I am denied the pleasure, or pain, of ever being able to read my own words. You will be able to read them, but I will not. So I write this out into the air, in a grand and looping script, that what is invisible to man may be visible to God (299-300). Continue reading
“I done a lot of things I shouldn’t have. You don’t know the half of it. But let me tell you something. I did not do stupid shit with stupid people that resulted in even more stupider shit that needed help cleaning up after. You got that” (99)? This is all the information thirty four-year old James Hart is willing to reveal about himself to his younger brother, Ezra, known as Rabbit in Steph Post‘s new novel, A Tree Born Crooked, forthcoming September 30 and available for preorder from Pandamoon Publishing. A flight school dropout who cut himself off from his family for fifteen years, James returns to his family’s rural home in Alachua County, Florida when he receives a summons by postcard announcing his father’s death too late to attend the funeral. Instead of leaving the place that haunts and repels him, James remains to settle his father’s estate and walks into a snare meant for his petty-criminal brother. Author Steph Post has created a vivid literary thriller where her characters stride among the groves, backroads, and bars of north-central Florida like weary Titians, flicking their burning cigarettes into the sand and grit, wiping away whiskey with the backs of their hands.
I’m way behind on my book review obligations as well as my own writing and reading. Even when I was concussed, I managed to read—it wasn’t a good idea; it wasn’t pleasant, but it was irresistible. May as well tell me not to breathe. But my fall down our back stairs and the resulting injuries and staph infection has brought me low and humble. I haven’t read a complete novel in about three weeks and only a smattering of flash or blog posts. It’s unimaginable that such a thing could occur. The loss of productivity has been devastating. Because, if you can’t or won’t write, you can always read. But that hasn’t been possible. So it is with great enthusiasm that I have finally been reading again and offer a review of CS DeWildt’s fine flash novel, The Louisville Problem.
I finished Every Contact Leaves A Trace by Elanor Dymott this morning and highly recommend it. It’s foolish to start a good mystery at 1:30 a.m., but I didn’t expect that I would not be able to put it down. I wanted to learn what trade-off Dymott made when she chose not to sustain the tension she created with a masterful use of the present tense and a narrative voice that conveyed tremendous emotion with paradoxical constricted affect, and I wanted to know just how unreliable that narrator was. I’d like to think the protraction of the novel was a device that permits the reader to experience the magnitude of the narrator’s grief, but instead, Dymott chose to indulge a great, and at times, exasperating, reveal, when she could have produced a gem so brilliant at half the length, she would have stood next to Ford Maddox Ford rather than in his shadow. It is, however, an exceptional book, precise, and, at times, gorgeous. If Dymott only gets better, I can’t wait to read whatever she writes next.