A Novel Written in the Form of Letters, Diary Entries, Encyclopedia Entries, Conversations with Various People, Notes Sent Home From Teachers, Newspaper Articles, Psychological Evaluations, Weather Reports, a Missing Person Flyer, a Eulogy, a Last Will and Testament and Other Fragments ….
The sum total of all that is a scrapbook in most instances. From the pen of Michael Kimball, however, perhaps the most truly saddening read of my life. (And I don’t mean that in a bad way. )
The opening extract is the news release concerning the suicide of Jonathon Bender. It is followed by a piece written by his younger brother, Robert, who freely admits that “I never liked my brother growing up, but I didn’t know him well when he died”. Yet profoundly affected by the suicide, Robert tries to piece together Jonathon’s life from a box of his brother’s keepsakes and a stack of suicide letters that Jonathan had written to everybody he knew. As he does this, Robert comes to understand that the different childhoods they experienced, even when living in the same home, have created radically different adults. “I began to realise that I had been wrong about a lot of things about Jonathon. You will see what I mean”.
This – let’s call it a preface – is the most explicit piece in the novel. The fragments that follow put Jonathon’s life back together – yet, the train wreck is always just around the corner. Robert can’t turn back time, nor can the reader. It’s profoundly saddening …
and, at the same time, unputdownable. The construction is so clever. Fragmented as the narrative is, the story is never overwhelming. You have to read between the lines. There are 5 narrators in this book. Robert, Jonathon, both parents and Jonathon’s wife, Sara; your interpretation depending on whom you deem the most reliable, or perhaps on the events that resonate the most within you.
There are so many amazing things to savour. Those who believe that a man cannot write from the viewpoint of a woman should read this. Alice Bender’s diary entries and Sara’s funeral eulogy are amongst the most searingly honest and authentic sentiments I have ever read.
I had to pick myself up off the floor at the end, I was so emotionally involved …. with the living – not the dead. With some more than others. The book eliciting complex reactions – just like real life. Fantastic – easily the best read of 2009 thus far. Once I calm my aching heart, I shall be devouring Kimball’s backcatalogue. In the meantime, tune in for an author Q&A this coming Sunday.