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The Illumination: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews 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.)
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Reading-Group Guide to "The Illumination"
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375425314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375425318
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,036,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A. H. on January 27, 2011
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 By K. Harris HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on January 15, 2011
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 By Ken C. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 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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