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The Ecstatic: A Novel Hardcover – November 12, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1st edition (November 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609610147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609610145
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,599,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Not since Chief Bromden has there been a misfit narrator as large and compelling as 315-pound Anthony, the voice of this captivating debut novel by LaValle, author of the story collection Slapboxing with Jesus. At the book's outset, Anthony's family finds him "living wild" in his apartment, expelled from Cornell University and suffering bouts of dementia. They bring him home to his African-American Queens neighborhood, which, like Anthony himself, threatens to tip from middle-class propriety to a state of shabby but colorful disrepair. There's the local loan shark, Ishkabibble; white-collar neighbors concerned about their lawns; a pack of roving dogs with keen noses for human weakness. Most important, there's Anthony's family: grandmother, mother and sister, "three versions of the same woman-past, present and future," who are usually at war with one another. Anthony isn't the first mentally ill member of his family. His mother, unstable in her youth, becomes erratic again just as Anthony tries to parlay his vigor for housecleaning and his encyclopedic knowledge of low-budget horror movies into some sort of promising future. Throughout, Anthony reflects on his own condition and that of those around him in a smart, sad and honest voice. The narrative shimmers with his self-deprecating wit and unexpected images ("Her hair was a big loose spray of black semi-curls emanating from her skull like the sound waves of her rollicking conversation"). LaValle's first book left critics divided over whether it had the substance to match its mannered style. Similar questions may be raised this time around, but LaValle's sympathetic and original narrator is a remarkable creation.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Lavalle (Slapboxing with Jesus) creates a memorable hero in Anthony James, a 318-pound, 23-year-old, Cornell-educated schizophrenic. In order to keep a semblance of order in his unstable mind, he narrates his family's slow road to destruction. Stops along the way include a small-town beauty pageant in Virginia, a weight-loss clinic, and a McDonald's besieged by protesting college students. Throughout, Anthony remains sarcastic, intelligent, and conscious of his condition, though control of it increasingly eludes him. His experience is brought to life by Lavalle's acute sensory details and hyperbolic wordplay. The novel's events are well-conceived and pertinent to the story being told. One does wish, however, that Lavalle would have spent more time developing Anthony's 93-year-old grandmother, schizophrenic mother, and teenage sister Nabisase, whose histories and personality traits are not given quite enough room to breathe. There are also points in the narrative when explanation bails out similes that should be permitted to speak for themselves. Nevertheless, The Ecstatic is a thought-provoking debut and recommended for literary collections. Julia LoFaso, New York City
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Victor LaValle is the author of a short-story collection, Slapboxing with Jesus, and two novels, The Ecstatic & Big Machine.

His most recent novel, Big Machine, was named a best book of 2009 by Publishers Weekly, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, and the Nation. Big Machine was awarded the Shirley Jackson Award for best novel, the American Book Award, and the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.

Other prizes include a Whiting Writers' Award, a USA Ford Fellowship,a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship, and the key to Southeast Queens.

Customer Reviews

Overall, a very entertaining and somewhat surreal read.
Avery Z. Conner
The Ecstatic is a wonderful read for anyone seeking intelligent writing with enticing phrasing in a linear story filled with sub-text.
The ECSTATIC is very unlike any book that you have ever read.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By S. Hudson on February 3, 2003
Format: Hardcover
If ever I have felt a love/hate relationship with a book, The Ecstatic would be the book that deserves this honor. I'm still reeling from the pages and the life that main character, Anthony Jones, lives. Anthony is a 318-pound schizophrenic, who is plagued with the same affliction that affects his grandmother, mother and little sister. The story centers on the mental journey surrounding food addiction and the lack of treatment for the families' mental afflictions. On the one hand, I see why Anthony weighed as much as he did; on the other hand it was disgusting how his extreme low self-esteem affected him physically and mentally.
The Ecstatic will definitely take the reader on a ride. Starting with the extraction of Anthony from his college apartment where he was living in mental collapse while attending Cornell University, the story finds Anthony living in the basement of the home his mother, grandmother and sister share. Faring no better in these circumstances, where his family has imposed severe eating restrictions on him, Anthony seeks friendship and counsel from one Ishkabibble, the neighborhood street banker...(read loan shark here). Everybody in the neighborhood has something owed Ishkabibble (I loved the name, say it 3 times fast) and he takes advantage of this and Anthony by loaning him money to write a book, and using him as his heavy. The home life fares no better when Anthony's little sister participates in a beauty pageant for vestal virgins and they quite literally lose their mother while on this trek to the south. How can I forget to discuss Anthony's friend who infuses himself with a case of botulism to induce rapid weight loss and tries to get Anthony to join in. Just who is schizophrenic in this instance?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By "rr1811" on April 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Picked this book up after hearing about it at school, there were two grad students talking about how the book was really special. I got it and read it in a weekend and then reread it the weekend after that. The first time through I was just laughing and laughing. It's pretty funny. Okay, it's hilarious. Then there'd be these moments where some big heartbreaking thing happens and you'd be so surprised because the whole time it felt like a comedy. I found that it was written in poetic language, but that it wasn't difficult to understand. Which is rare. It was literary book that didn't make me want to throw up from all the pretentions. How many times can I say that I enjoyed it? A thousand times wouldn't be enough. Truly spectacular.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By mateo52 VINE VOICE on February 2, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Ecstatic is one of those novels that should not be read by anyone outside of the intended audience and I believe in this instance that audience is comprised of english majors, aspiring writers, professional book reviewers, and others like me who function under the delusion they are much more erudite than the evidence would otherwise suggest. While I have reservations regarding comparisons of authors and texts, the primary character of this story, Anthony James, is reminiscent of other literary creations such as Winston Foshay from Paul Beatty's Tuff, Ignatius Reilly of Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, and even Salinger's Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye.

Anthony is an imposing characterization in every sense. As we learn early on, he has inherited the family's singular legacy - mental illness- and the story takes the reader along on the tragic-comic journey to the affliction's inevitable victory over that which most of us would view as normalized existence. By mere size (substantially north of 300 pounds), Anthony has the capacity to intimidate, but often in his self-conscious, introspectively critical manner, he is oblivious to that fact. He is brilliant yet only tangentially functional in any environment, living in the basement of the home owned by his 93 year old grandmother and also inhabited by his equally instable mother and Nabisase, his constantly seeking and searching 13 year old sister.

Along the way, a mélange of inarguably dysfunctional, most often darkly humorous people are introduced however not surprisingly, only superficially expanded in a story narrated by a twenty-three year old, increasingly non-plussed by the reactions of others but equally as ill-prepared to personally take any steps to extricate himself from the widening abyss.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pretty Brown Girl VINE VOICE on May 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Victor Lavalle's The Ecstatic left me feeling ambivalent. I found the novel to be well written, original, and crafty; but at times I also felt lost and confused. Perhaps the latter is intentional since the story is narrated by Anthony Jones, an obese schizophrenic, who lives with his equally schizophrenic relatives. Anthony is rapidly deteriorating and although he seems relatively in control at the beginning of the novel, it is quite clear that he has lost all of his mental faculties at the end.
The book is divided into three sections. In "The Whale" segment, Lavelle opens with Anthony's younger sister, mother, and grandmother rescuing him from Cornell University. He has not attended classes in a couple of years, is living in squalor, and has supported himself with menial jobs. He returns home to live in the basement and reacquaint himself with the old neighborhood. It is in this section that we learn about Anthony's atrocious eating habits, his mother's mental disorder, and his family's relationship with the neighbors. He tries to reinsert himself into society by losing weight, dating, and getting a job. Sadly, he is exploited by his employers and neighborhood thugs, fails at weight loss, and is jilted by his love interest. In the "Miss Innocence" segment, a family road trip to the sister's beauty pageant goes awry, largely due to Anthony's worsening condition. They meet a few questionable characters along the way that seem equally insane as the Jones clan. The last segment, "The Hounds" is Anthony's final descent into dementia where he becomes a danger to himself and others. He is literally trapped physically in his neighborhood by the patrolling dogs and mentally in his weakened mind.
At most, The Ecstatic is entertaining.
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