Review of Jesse Ball’s The Curfew

I make my debut with the Los Angeles Review of Books this week with a review of Jesse Ball’s novel, The Curfew. I didn’t think a whole lot of it, and nor did I think much more of what Ball has published to date (I pounded my way through his backlist for the review). For my next review I’ll be taking on the new work from an author that I consider to be much more emblematic of the exciting possibilities for U.S. fiction (albeit a long-term expat at this point . . .)

Anyway, here’s your quote:

All Ball’s work tends to the minimalist. His sentences are short and direct, his paragraphs too. His novels have plenty of white space — both literally and metaphorically — and they stick very close to their central character. Like Ball’s previous work, The Curfew’s small confines are packed with sparse exchanges of dialogue. There are very few details, the clipped narration used for utilitarian scene-setting. Rarely does the language venture into the abstract.

The book is about a man named William and his daughter, Molly, who live in a totalitarian regime. The overthrow of the previous regime is handled so briefly as to essentially be a parenthetical — at some point in William’s past the country wasn’t totalitarian, then things changed very quickly — and now William lives a dual life as a writer of epitaphs (or “epitaphorist,” in Ball’s coinage) for gravestones and a member of the sect-like insurgency against the regime. The narrative focuses upon him, his wife, whom he lost tragically, and his daughter, who cannot communicate via spoken language.

Character can be a very tough thing for minimalism . . .



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Ouch. I was underwhelmed with Curfew myself, but really enjoyed The Way Through Doors. There, at least, it seemed Ball’s imagination more than made up for the book’s flaws.

I rarely disagree with you, but I really enjoyed the Curfew in one sitting. It’s true that the characters are a little flat, but I don’t think his goal here is about atmosphere and less about character.

Neil: I agree! As I said in my review, Ball isn’t going for interesting/sympathetic characters. The problem is that there’s nothing interesting to replace them.

And for a book that doesn’t do character, he spends enormous amounts of space on a father/daughter relationship.

James: Yes, Doors was much better, albeit rather precious too.

Just read the review. Thanks for not pulling your punches.

Since I first heard of him last year, I’ve felt a little sad about the marketing of Jesse Ball’s books. I would love for him to live up to the marketing copy, really I would. But then I read the first page of “Samedi the Deafness” (gorgeous title) and found this little nugget:

“The change that James gave the man was put on the counter, separate from the business of counting that had been going on.”

Oh well. Maybe his poetry is a little more fluent.

Snap! A well-measured review that, oddly, kinda made me want to read the book despite, well, everything. The end of the review was gold, though. Cold gold.

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