Thursday, January 17, 2013

Review: "Gob's Grief" by Chris Adrian

While it is not something I would want to rant and rave about Gob’s Grief, the debut novel by the uniquely talented Chris Adrian is, so far, my favorite book of his, if you go by its sheer entertainment value. Like his other novels The Great Night and The Children’s Hospital, a lot of the narrative elements are a little to oblique to follow and reform the puzzle pieces it lays out, this makes up for that by being immensely fun to read, with a plot that rivals the extravagance and scope of The Children’s Hospital, but not as long and not filled with many vague biblical allusions. What really sets Chris Adrian apart among novelists like this such as Ben Marcus, is that he imbibes the subject matter with an honest and unpretentious heartfelt compassion for the written word and playfulness with which he does so. They may be hard books to read, but the lesson is one that rarely is. The novel starts with twins Tomo and Gob planning to escape from their chaotic home life and join the Union Army during the Civil War. Gob gets scared and stays behind, while Tomo becomes a bugler, only to be shot and killed during his first battle. This death, which leaves Gob with a huge amount of guilt, sets off a series of events that lead him on a fantastical mission to create a machine using spare parts that can bring back the dead. It is an outlandish premise that allows for some very cool set pieces to take place, such as Gob’s friend, Dr. Fie entering the Civil War under the tutelage of a photographer obsessed with taking a picture of a man as he dies, as well as Walt Whitman’s ambiguous obsession with the enthusiastic Gob. All these cool aspects really never form something cohesive, and the ending left me shaking my head, but getting there is rarely a bore, and Chris Adrian is too interesting a writer to ignore.
Rating: 4/5

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