While making for the nearest suitable reading cubby, I hold my chosen novel aloft as a means of recommending it without the need for electricity or wires (though, to be fair, I often employ a complicated series of large wires and pulleys to ease the burden of its weight upon my musculature and indeed have been researching the possibility of adding an electric motor to my contraption). This month’s recommendation did cause me some consternation, though. Fine book though it is, “A Cure for Suicide” is a title apt to raise eyebrows among those that don’t wish to see you dead. I bypassed this conundrum by merely regularly exclaiming, “Fear not for my well-being – this is a novel. I do not intend to curtail my glorious traversal through this magnificent existence!” My calls, in addition to allaying concerns and dispelling confusion as to why such a distinguished gentleman might consider cutting short his glorious traversals, earned me wide, respectful berths, providing me expedited arrival to the nearest cozy chair or nest of pillows and wigs (wigs are soft) that I’ve secreted around town so that I might recline comfortably with my reading material.
Onlookers’ dismay aside, reading Jesse Ball’s newest novel was a pleasure. Not only was it a fancy book, indicated clearly by the significant amount of blank space between most of the paragraphs, but it was also good. And that blank space wasn’t just indicative of fanciness and the author’s and publisher’s contempt for trees but was actually a useful style choice that emphasized the elegiac tone of the work and its fable-like qualities. And, as time passes, this novel continues to provide fodder for my mind monkeys to vigorously pull their various levers and add coal to their various furnaces. (Editor’s note: this book made the gentleman think.)
The premise is: a man, known initially only as the “claimant,” awakens with no memories. His “examiner” is at his side. Her task: to teach him the names of objects, how to interact with people and generally how to exist. We watch the claimant improve and regress and some twisty psychological drama enters the stage: there are injections, creepily idyllic villages and villagers, the claimant goes to sleep in one house and village and wakes up in a different house and village, etc. There is a great deal of discussion about the “whys” of things, sure to please the philosophy buffs that, as I understand it, make up much of our modern civilization. Then we come to perhaps the novel’s best section, the one that explains why our claimant is here, why he was driven to spoiler alert seek a cure for suicide. This relatively lengthy chapter foregoes the lovely blank space that dominates the rest of the novel, the better with which to gently bludgeon you with heartbreak. Later we return to the previous format and tone and are left with a doozy of a closing section and a complex query that might have the reader lingering in their nest of pillows and wigs, contemplating several facets of existence while they conceal the title from onlookers (as the reader is too deep in thought to be capable of calling out an explanation for the title of the work they hold, and so must hide it to ensure no one is concerned for their well-being).