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Samedi the Deafness (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – September 4, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Unspecified cataclysm threatens in this unconventional debut spy fable from poet Ball. As mysterious suicides are staged daily on the White House lawn, James Sim, a loner and professional mnemonist (someone who can memorize large amounts of data), comes upon a man stabbed in a park. The man's dying words cast light on garbled notes left by the White House suicides that threaten something very big and very bad in seven days' time. Following the dead man's clues (over seven days in as many chapters), Sim cracks ciphers, explores hidden passages of a fictional, labyrinth-like verisylum and struggles to find a straight answer about Samedi, the figure seemingly at the center of the matter. The suicides continue, and the only good advice comes from female pickpocket Grieve, who goes by false names, spies on Sim and falls for him. There are flashbacks to conversations with Sim's childhood imaginary friend (an invisible red owl named Ansilon) and a detailed, history of the fictional 18th-century inventor of the verisylum. Ball writes scenes that read like prose poetry and cultivates a Beckett-like alienated digression rather than standard plot mechanics. The results are highly imaginative but hard going. (Sept.)
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“A strange modern thriller--Kafka meets Hitchcock--laden with questions about truth, identity, memory, and the importance of names, a story that casts an unsettling spell.”
—Keith Donohue, author of The Stolen Child

“Like a tale by Lewis Carroll or a film by David Lynch, Samedi the Deafness teeters on the edge of unreality, plunges right in, and comes back again full circle. From its labyrinth of fictions, through the doubling and deceptive mirrors lining its walls and corridors, spills the eerie glow of some strange, ineffable truth.”
—Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder

Samedi the Deafness is an urgent book . . . trying intently to tell us something about our world and our way of living, and it challenges us to listen. No serious reader can refuse this challenge.”
—Paul La Farge, author of Haussmann, or the Distinction

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; First Edition edition (September 4, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307278859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307278852
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,346 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jesse Ball is the author of numerous prize winning works of fiction and poetry. 2011 will bring a novel, The Curfew, from Vintage, and a collected verse/prose omnibus, The Village on Horseback, from Milkweed Editions. He lives in Chicago.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By W. Edwards on September 21, 2007
Format: Paperback
I will spare you specifics about the book, as this is well-covered elsewhere on these interweb-tubes. Another motivation for this is because I wish for each new reader of Samedi to discover the story on their own terms as much as possible. I was looking forward to reading this novel by the poet Jesse Ball ever since I saw it was to be released. Once I got my hands on the advanced reader's copy, I paused my reading only for sleep and eating. It can go by quickly if you aren't careful to savor it, yet you don't feel as if the book is whipping you along. At the same time, the wonder and preciousness of each moment comes through in the book. The story feels like a distinct character, as if it has it's own life and agency. You come across little wisdoms uttered by the characters which initially feel as if they are meant to remain within the realm of the book, but as the book seeps into you you start to wonder which ones might function well outside the pages. And there are deeper wisdoms here, stretching across pages and sections of the book, which take longer to seep in.

The imagination present in this story is inspirational, as it is not a separate entity but the well up from which the story is drawn. Scenes from the book are still swirling about my head. I say this in contrast to another author whom I enjoy, who blurs the line between reality and the sub-/un-conscious (imaginary?), thus making reality feel unstable and foggy. This is enjoyable on its own merits, if you enjoy such a challenge. Ball's work is assured in its vagaries and imagination, which imparts a confidence on the reader rather than a fog, bringing its own challenges to the reader and reinforcing the reader's suspension of disbelief.
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Richards HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on May 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
There are seven days in a week
Sunday, Monday
Tuesday, Wednesday
Thursday, Friday

*(popular children's ditty)

This is a strange book
The writing style can be disjointed
Yet strangely poetic
And you can't put it down
For fear you miss something
But still
It's weird

Set over a seven day period
There's no prize for guessing
That it ends on

The hero's name is James
James is a mnemonist
Which means he can remember lots of stuff
In a very short time
Which you will agree is pretty weird
But then things get weirder
When he comes across a man
With stab wounds
Who dies

Then there be suicides
And James is kidnapped
And taken to a verisylum
Which is where they treat chronic liars
If you can believe that

But then it gets more interesting

The building is like a maze
With rules that would delight Lewis Carroll
And people have more than one name
Except for those whose names are the same
And he falls in love
And out of love
And in again
And he learns that he can't trust anybody

The tension builds
As the author skillfully creates
His vision
Of what's going to happen
On Saturday

Dark and strange
Read this is you're looking for something
And twisted

Amanda Richards, May 10, 2008
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on September 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
On a Sunday morning in a Washington park, James Sim - loner and professional mnemonist (someone who can memorize large amounts of data) - is witness to the aftermath of a stabbing. With his dying breath, Thomas McHale tells James: "I was one of them, but I left, and they didn't want me to leave. Have you seen the paper? Samedi? The conspirators? I was one of them...You must do it. You must expose them." The "them" in question is a group of individuals who commit suicide in front of the White House, one each day, all bearing a message from Samedi of doom to come on the seventh day.

McHale leaves James with a few clues; however, he is loath to get involved until a chance encounter with a young woman spurs him to action. James sets off to follow the dead man's clues and, in the process, ends up a prisoner in an asylum for liars. As he searches for truth amidst the lies, James struggles to find out who Samedi is and what will happen on the seventh day.

Samedi the Deafness is the very strange novel from poet Jesse Ball. As he states in an interview, "Samedi is an investigation of lies and responsibility." Despite this clear statement of intent, and being incredibly easy to read, reality is quickly undermined in Samedi. This is a novel which will frustrate, confound and challenge readers, who will quickly feel as if they've fallen down the rabbit hole, into a David Lynch film where political commentary is provided by Hunter S. Thompson.

The character of Samedi has direct ties to "Baron Samedi," the all-knowing loa of death from the Voodoo tradition, known for disruption, obscenity, debauchery. It should come as no surprise that Ball has chosen to take that disruption and undermine the very concept of the novel.
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