A slender, shimmering first novel in stories totters precariously between fact and fiction in the voice of a grieving father who tries to make sense of his young daughter’s disappearance.
Seven-year-old Celia Brooks vanishes from the backyard of her family’s suburban home on March 15, 1997—a day “perfectly pitched between winter and spring”—while her novelist father, Christopher Brooks, is inside showing his historic home to visitors. By ever widening streams-of-consciousness, storywriter Brockmeier (Things That Fall from the Sky, 2002) introduces the residents of the town of Springfield during the course of their daily rounds four years later that will culminate in their gathering for Celia’s memorial service: mother Janet, who plays clarinet in the Community Orchestra, buys a black dress downtown; superintendent of the local police force, Kimson Perry, teases the Reverend Gautreaux about his secretive smoking; while Springfield’s tolerated drunk, Asa Hutchinson, disrupts the service by throwing liquor bottles at the assembly. Punctuating these stories of reassuring normalcy are Christopher’s profound and unassuageable grief and guilt, and, in a marvelously adept synthesis of narration (where comparisons to The Lovely Bones halt instantly), author Brockmeier assumes the role of his narrator and vice versa as the novel embarks on a fantastic exploration of the possibilities of Celia’s disappearance. In one seemingly disembodied segment, “The Green Children,” Celia has slipped back to medieval times, when she and her sickly boy neighbor will be miraculously discovered hiding in the “wolf-pits” by the townspeople of Woolpit; in another chapter, “Appearance . . . ,” Celia has become a single mother called Stephanie, whose ten-year-old son Micah grows enchanted with a second-rate magician. These pieces don’t necessary constitute a novel, but Brockmeier’s writerly cleverness and wondrous phrasing—Celia plays in a “shock of grass,” and a woman of pleasure reveals “a tangled gusset of pubic hair”—make the whole transcendently affecting.
Beautifully composed vignettes about loss and mortality by an emerging author devoted to his craft.