Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The View From The Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier


First Sentence: Once there was a city where everyone had the gift of song.



The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier
Pantheon Books, 2008 (ARE)
Fiction (ss); 267 pgs

Kevin Brockmeier’s book of short stories, The View From the Seventh Layer, is perfect for reflective and thoughtful reading. Each story offers a look into the life of its characters, their minds and souls, and the choices they have made. Some focus on regret while others on forward motion. The View From the Seventh Layer is a blend of beauty, heartache, and reflection.

The book is compromised of thirteen original stories. It opens with “A Fable Ending in the Sound of a Thousand Parakeets” about a mute man who is surrounded by the songs of his neighbors. No one really knows much about him, often taking him for granted. Yet there is so much more to him than anyone realizes.

The story sharing the title of the book, The View From the Seventh Layer, is perhaps the most revealing of all the stories in the novel, full of small regrets and reflections on what was and what could have been. Olivia spends her summers selling maps and other sundries to tourists and locals on the island. She is a reader who has stopped reading. Her life has not gone the way she imagined it might; she feels trapped and is waiting to be taken away from it all. At the other end of the spectrum is the story of Jacob in “The Lives of Philosophers.” Readers are introduced to the young graduate student who on the verge of making decisions that could change the direction of his life, and yet he is not sure he wants anything at all to change.

As a child, I loved reading choose-your-own adventure stories, and the author has graced readers with one just for adults in the center of the book. Of course, I had to follow each path and could not just stop at one. The author also dabbles in science fiction in a story here and there, adding a nice balance to the collection.

My favorite stories came near the end, one of an associate producer burned out on his job. Another is of the refugee girl who has her photo taken by an American. Perhaps the most powerful is the final story, a fable about a man who buys God’s overcoat at a thrift store one day. There was not one disappointing story in the bunch, each one worth reading.

A city that longs for that which it doesn’t have, getting more than we bargained for, finding love and in some cases, never quite grasping it, facing the consequences of the choices made, remembering what could have been, and finally taking a chance regardless of the consequences are just a few of the themes readers will find in Kevin Brockmeier’s short story collection. There is a gentle melancholy that hangs over several of the stories and yet several offer a glimmer of hope.

The author’s writing is haunting at times and always lyrical. He seems to take care with his descriptions, weaving his words together and creating a visual of feeling, which comes out on every page. And yet, with all that description, not once did it feel overdone nor did I grow tired of it. Kevin Brockmeier also captures the souls of his characters, seemingly ordinary people, each one of them relatable and offering more to the reader than what meets the eye. Time seemed to stop as I read The View From the Seventh Layer. I cannot recommend it enough. Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Wendy Runyon, 2008.

Favorite Quote:
The heart of every house was the kitchen, the soul of every house was the bedroom, the mind of every house was displayed with hooks and thumbtacks on the walls. But the conscience of every house—she believed—the conscience of every house was the bookshelves. [pg 19]

Rating: * (Very Good)

15 comments:

  1. Yep, an opening line like that would have me hooked! And another book to add to my TBR list! Sounds absolutely beautiful.

    Great review, thanks!

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  2. Oh, this does sound good! I'm trying to read more short stories, and this sounds right up my alley. Thanks for the great review. I love the quote.

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  3. This sounds beautiful! It's not the first time I hear great things about Kevin Brockmeier. I really want to read him in the hear future.

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  4. I don't read a lot of short stories. It's kind of weird - I like essays, but when it comes to fiction I seem to prefer long-form narrative.

    However, I do occasionally like to get into short fiction, and the next time I do, I'll definitely need to keep my eye out for this collection.
    Thanks for the review, Wendy!

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  5. Hi Wendy,
    You've been TAGGED!
    If this isn't fun, just ignore it. But if it is fun, go wild!

    http://cleasimon.blogspot.com

    all best

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  6. Another book to add to my wishlist, Wendy! I love the quote.

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  7. Mariel - Thank you! I loved the author's writing and I hope to read more by him in the future.

    Lisa - Thank you! I selected this book because I'd heard so many people rave about his last novel. I don't read short stories all that often either, but, like you, I'm trying to change that.

    Nymeth - I think you might like this one, Nymeth. I really want to read The Brief History of the Dead by the same author.

    Florinda - I don't read a lot of short stories either. I didn't care for them much in fact, until I finally realized that a short story is not meant to be a short novel more often than not. There are certain types of short stories I prefer over others, I'm finding.

    Clea - Thanks for the tag! I'll probably do this one towards the end of the week. :-)

    Melody - I am paying you back for the books I've recently added to my wish list because of you. :-)

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  8. This sounds good. I've come to quite enjoy short stories. Adding it to my wishlist.

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  9. I am also adding this book to my TBR list. It is a book I beleieve I would enjoy a lot

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  10. I have been reading more short stories this year and am finding a new respect for that form. this collection sounds very good and I may have to add this to my already huge wishlist!

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  11. Tanabata - I really enjoyed the stories and hope you will too if you read it!

    Sylvie - There's such a variety of stories in this collection. I hope you will like it if you give it a try.

    Jaimie - I've definitely grown to appreciate short stories more, and this one only cemented my interest in them. :-)

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  12. I'll be putting this book on my list! Have you read Brockmeier's book, The Brief History Of The Dead? I really liked it, and the picture on the book's cover was striking. I also wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog.

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  13. Lazy Kitty - Thank you for stopping by and the compliment! No, I'm afraid I haven't had the chance yet to read The Brief History of the Dead, although I have heard great things about it. I have a copy in my TBR collection though. :-)

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  14. Probably an early sign of an obsessive reader when I wouldn't put the choose your own adventures book down until I had read every possible scenario. Sounds like an interesting book. I keep saying that I'm going to read more short fiction, but I never do. I still have another of your reviewed short story collections on my wishlist.

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  15. Trish - I can never help myself when it comes to choose your own adventures. I'm afraid I'm going to miss something if I don't follow each path.

    I don't read nearly as many short stories as I might like. They aren't usually the first thing I think of to pick up and read.

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