Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book 22: The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier

I am a huge fan of Brockmeier. I read his novel "A Brief History of the Dead" a few years ago, and have been hooked ever since. He's a gifted writer who draws you in with his vivid descriptions and makes you truly care about his characters. His books are the type that you find difficult to put down - you want to stay in his worlds and find out what happens next.

"The Truth About Celia" is one of the most beautiful and sorrowful novels I've ever read. It's also a book within a book - it's a collection of short stories written by a fictional author named Christopher Brooks. Christopher is a successful science fiction author who lives with his wife Janet and 7-year-old daughter Celia. One day, while he is giving a tour of their historical home, Celia, who was playing in their backyard, simply vanishes. Poof. Gone without a sound or trace.

The novel is Christopher's first work since Celia's disappearance. In the 7 years after, he has written several short stories that all revolve around that tragedy. One story recounts the events of that fateful day over and over, as if by doing so Christopher could find a new piece to the puzzle that explains what happened. Another story starts with one character and moves through the town, bouncing from person to person, showing how they have all been affected by Celia's disappearance, and ending in a ceremony being held by the townspeople to honor her memory. There are several pieces of fiction that try to give Celia a happy ending - in one, she has fallen into a different world; in another, she's grown up and is raising a son who wants to become a magician.

The novel is Christopher's way of coping with their loss. It's a horrible tragedy - I can't think of anything worse than simply losing someone. Even when you lose a loved one to death, there is a sense of finality - they've passed on and are at rest. With Celia, Christopher and Janet have no idea if she's dead or alive, if she's being tortured somewhere, if she's scared and missing her family. Christopher in particular has been unable to move on since that day, and has spent his time writing not only about that day but trying to give Celia's story an ending, in order to give himself one as well.

Like I said, the book is absolutely heartbreaking. But it is also one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and so I wholly recommend it.

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