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.
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)