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The Illumination: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Kevin Brockmeier
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $5.01 (33%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Reading-Group Guide to "The Illumination"
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Book Description

What if our pain was the most beautiful thing about us?
 
From best-selling and award-winning author Kevin Brockmeier: a new novel of stunning artistry and imagination about the wounds we bear and the light that radiates from us all.
 
At 8:17 on a Friday night, the Illumination commences. Every wound begins to shine, every bruise to glow and shimmer. And in the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes, written by a husband to his wife, passes into the keeping of a hospital patient and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely.
 
I love the soft blue veins on your wrist. I love your lopsided smile. I love watching TV and shelling sunflower seeds with you.
 
The six recipients—a data analyst, a photojournalist, a schoolchild, a missionary, a writer, and a street vendor—inhabit an acutely observed, beautifully familiar yet particularly strange universe, as only Kevin Brockmeier could imagine it: a world in which human pain is expressed as illumination, so that one’s wounds glitter, fluoresce, and blaze with light. As we follow the journey of the book from stranger to stranger, we come to understand how intricately and brilliantly they are connected, in all their human injury and experience.


From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2011: When wounds and illnesses, both superficial and severe, begin emitting a beautiful shimmering light--a phenomenon quickly coined "The Illumination"--a chain of characters learn to adapt to this unexpected change in Kevin Brockmeier's incandescent novel, The Illumination. No longer able hide their own pains from the world, and suddenly exposed to the discomfiting wounds of strangers, friends, and lovers, these characters struggle to adapt to a new way of experiencing life and, in very different ways, to understand the intrinsic connection between love and pain. "There was an ache inside people that seemed so wonderful sometimes," one character muses. And then, because this ache is also corporeal, "He wished he had brought his camera with him." While Brockmeier's brilliant novel is innately tied up in pain and loss, witnessing the lives he creates in the midst of this new wonder is not only a beautiful experience but, yes, an illuminating one. --Lynette Mong

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In Brockmeier's spectacular latest (after The View from the Seventh Layer), pain manifests itself as visible light after a mysterious event called "the Illumination," revealing humanity to be mortally wounded, and yet Brockmeier finds in these overlapping, storylike narratives, beauty amid the suffering. Jason Williford, a photojournalist, loses his wife in a traffic accident and fixates on a troubled teenage girl who teaches him to cultivate pain "in a dreamlike vesper." Chuck Carter, a battered and bullied neighbor boy, steals a journal of love notes from Jason's house, and later gives the journal to door-knocking evangelist Ryan Shifrin, who found his faith after watching his younger sister die from cancer. Telescoping into his decades of service to the church, Ryan wonders at the civil strife and disasters that "produce a holocaust of light." Through accounts of quotidian suffering depict humanity's quiet desperation--the agony of a severed thumb, the torture of chronic mouth ulcers--Brockmeier's careful reading of his characters' hearts and minds gives readers an inspiring take on suffering and the often fleeting nature of connection. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1078 KB
  • Print Length: 275 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B009II5KIW
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 1, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004FGMDIC
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #480,716 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
(86)
3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intriguing novel with rich, complex characters January 27, 2011
By A. H.
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Kevin Brockmeier has given us a gripping book with rich characters, one of the best new works I've read in recent years. This is not a novel with a conventional narrative structure. It is almost in the nature of six short stories or character portraits that hang together around a unifying device. That device is one handwritten volume in which a woman faithfully recorded the intimate daily notes of affection and appreciation her husband would leave for her before heading to work. This volume, a repository of unconditional love, finds its way through various twists and turns into the hands of characters who are varied as they are unique, and the narrative, such as it is, is organized as glimpses into the complicated lives of each of these persons.

The other concept that renders Brockmeier's work intriguing is a worldwide phenomenon that begins one evening (with no explanation) and causes people's emotional and physical pain to become visible as emanations of light. This phenomenon comes to be known as the "Illumination." It is this device that allows Brockmeier to explore the depths of his characters and the troubles they face in their lives. Each character is complex, experiencing his or her own individual pain against a backdrop of the suffering of others, all of which is visible because everyone's pain is manifest. The phenomenon gives people the capability for new levels of empathy, but it also gives rise to people who enjoy inflicting pain, whether masochistically on themselves or sadistically on others, in part because the infliction of pain is accompanied by a show of light.
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70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There is an intriguing premise behind Kevin Brockmeier's "The Illumination." A fascinating allegory about the endurance of the human spirit, Brockmeier's picture of the world in which physical pain manifests itself on the visual spectrum in undeniably unique and intriguing. One day in "The Illumination" wounds and ailments suddenly start emitting a light. Is it sign from a higher power signifying the end of days? Will people become more sensitive and considerate to one another now that all pain has become externalized? Frightening and mystifying, the phenomenon can't be explained and soon becomes common place as opposed to affecting any sweeping changes within the human condition. Pain exists and yet we persevere. Love, faith, life, suffering--it all exists to define us and pain is but one necessary part of the equation. In truth, I love the idea of "The Illumination."

Brockmeier, however, isn't content with this one big poetic gesture. The novel is also tied together by a journal of love notes passed from character to character. And, in my opinion, it's one plot device too many. Just the Illumination or just the love journal might have worked for me--but together, the two elements struggle in overdrive, and often at cross purposes, to elicit deep meaning from mundane situations. "The Illumination" is really structured as six separate stories with the journal being the common denominator. The six recipients of the journal live within the world of The Illumination and each suffers from a pain or malaise--be it physical, spiritual, psychological or emotional.

The novel starts out with great promise. Here's a line-up of the characters and how, for me, they fit into the big picture.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sum, Meet Parts December 27, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
THE ILLUMINATION is one of those "sum vs. parts" books where you're either saying the parts are greater than the sum, or vice versa. In this case, it's the former that rule the day. In parts, the book has some neat turns of phrase and is interesting to read. But, as a whole, it doesn't exactly compel. What's more, though billed as a "novel," it reads more like a collection of short stories. This is due to the premise. A journal kept by the husband half of a couple brought to the ER due to a car wreck is filled with "I love you when..." notes. The husband survives, but the object of his ardor does not. Thus, we follow the journal as it goes from hand to hand among a series of owners, starting with the woman's hospital roommate, moving to the distraught husband himself, followed by a bullied schoolboy, a missionary, an author and a street vendor.

As for the title, it refers to the fact that light starts to emanate both from people's wounds and from their heartaches. The greater the pain, the greater the glow. The phenomena hits at about the time of the car accident, though the bullied boy, Chuck, was seeing it sooner -- even in abused inanimate objects. Does this link, or the journal, a novel make? Well, with the increasingly amorphous definition of "novel," who's to say? The Illumination appears to be a metaphor for the beauty of our suffering (cue compassion, a necessary ingredient). Thoreau said, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation," and Brockmeier seems to be saying, "Quiet, yes, but beautiful, when lit up like a Christmas tree." Maybe, then, when we can actually SEE each other's pain, we will care more.

If you are a fan of the short story, you might enjoy the bursts of fine writing that pop on like flashlights in the dark here.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This is one of his best!
This man is such a talent, his ideas are mesmerizing. This is one of his best!
Published 2 months ago by Bramwell
5.0 out of 5 stars WOW
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1.0 out of 5 stars just another book to read
Had a hard time getting into this book, and ended up not liking it. Boring to me and I felt it didn't have a good ending?
Published 13 months ago by Elizabeth Whalen
1.0 out of 5 stars Where have all the editors gone?
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Published 15 months ago by Dawna Robertson
2.0 out of 5 stars Weird
This is a little too weird for me. I'm having trouble staying with a group of folks who cut themselves for pain relief.
Published 18 months ago by Sara L. Orem
5.0 out of 5 stars This one made me cry a few times.
It was a great study on emotion, the ones we carry within us, and the ones we show, the ones others percieve as hard as we try to mask them. Beautiful.
Published 19 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars Got 3/4 of the way through and quit
Things got a bit weird with relationships between the main character and this teenage girl... and it just made me uncomfortable. I didn't see the point of finishing the book. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Allison L Palmer
2.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected
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2.0 out of 5 stars Fizzled
Started off interesting but slowly fizzled and i could care less about any of the characters. It's too bad because the concept is so creative and different.
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