DUSK AND EMBER by Robert Jacoby


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Jacoby’s (There Are Reasons Noah Packed No Clothes, 2012, etc.) literary prequel tells the story of young man’s journey to a friend’s wake, set over the course of an eventful evening.

It’s December 1981, and Richard Issych has been having a hard time. The 19-year-old lives with his overbearing parents and works the third shift at the Sekula Tool and Die foundry in Eastlake, Ohio; he takes five or six quaaludes per day. Maybe it’s the drugs, or maybe there’s a deeper cause—he has a history of suicide attempts—but Richard’s thoughts are often jumbled in a way that makes it difficult for him make decisions, or even keep track of what’s going on. When he arrives at work one night and learns that one of his co-workers, Dale Smith, has murdered fellow co-worker Melvin Skinner, whatever grip he had on reality gets that much looser—because Richard had picked up Dale and driven him to Melvin’s house, and along the way, Dale said that he intended to commit murder. Richard decides to attend Melvin’s wake, catching a ride with other co-workers Jeff, JoJo, and Dannyboy. The trip to the wake becomes a quixotic adventure across the rusty Cleveland metropolitan area, through Richard’s memories and into the depths of his own psyche. Throughout this novel, Jacoby’s prose, which closely follows Richard’s internal monologue, is dense and dynamic—often swerving off in unexpected directions before doubling back on itself: “He was a confusion of thoughts; he broke his brain in bits on needle thoughts, needless thoughts. He had to calm down, calm himself down, think, he told himself—think what you’re trying to think.” This makes for moments of wonderful lyricism, but it also slows the pace to a crawl at times—and, given the novel’s length of more than 450 pages, readers may find this somewhat discouraging. The book is conceptually impressive, however, and fans of epic postmodernist novels may find themselves enthralled by it.

A vast, cerebral account of an unstable teenager’s attempt to find redemption.

Pub Date: May 15th, 2019
Page count: 371pp
Publisher: Cloud Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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