HOW TO READ AN UNWRITTEN LANGUAGE by Philip Graham

HOW TO READ AN UNWRITTEN LANGUAGE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

From storywriter Graham (The Art of the Knock, 1985), an exceptional first novel about the unveiling of secret lives and hidden stories. Sitting on a park bench, a solitary man named Michael Kirby ""reads"" the shadows of trees and collects the tales of discarded objects. Michael goes back into childhood to tell about the origin and long progress of this strange passion--a passion that begins on the now long-ago day when his mother decides to become someone else. Out of boredom she uncovers the lives of all the people she'd rather be, forcing Michael and his two siblings to engage in her dangerous role-play. When insanity and then death finish her off, the children fall under the care of an indifferent father, who, in contrast to Mrs. Kirby, hasn't even a single personality to offer them. In reaction, Michael begins his search for continuity, for tangible artifacts that will remain steady in a chaotic life. His childhood collection consists of buttons and fingernail clippings; in adulthood, then, he learns to gather items with histories: a keychain from a woman who dreamt of learning to drive to escape her husband; a detached car antenna carried about by a man wishing for a lightening-bolt suicide; a doll's arm pointed into the darkness by a frightened girl. Michael carries these items around like talismans, willing to distribute them to others in need of comfort; and with the objects' ""stories"" he builds an extended family for himself, creating his own history from the broken pieces of other lives. These collected stories delicately mirror his own wishes and dilemmas, creating an interwoven tapestry of episodes of hope and longing--and also of despair for the unknowable inner lives of those he loves. Only when he meets Sylvia, a meteorologist unable to predict weather patterns, does it seem Michael may have met his mate--another who values the unraveling of mysteries. A poignant, multifaceted debut novel about the obscured treasures of the ordinary.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1995
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner