Summary and book reviews of A Better Angel by Chris Adrian

A Better Angel

Stories

By Chris Adrian

A Better Angel
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  • Hardcover: Aug 2008,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2009,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading

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Book Summary

The stories in A Better Angel describe the terrain of human suffering—illness, regret, mourning, sympathy—in the most unusual of ways. In “Stab,” a bereaved twin starts a friendship with a homicidal fifth grader in the hope that she can somehow lead him back to his dead brother. A ne'er-do-well pediatrician returns home to take care of his dying father in the remarkable title story, all the while under the scrutiny of an easily disappointed heavenly agent. In “The Colony,” a young doctor travels to a remote island to study a mind-destroying illness and finds himself the victim of a transfiguring sympathy for the afflicted. And in “Why Antichrist?,” a boy tries to contact the spirit of his dead father and finds himself talking to the Devil instead. Such miraculous and chilling events are not uncommon in Chris Adrian's world, which is by turns heartbreaking, magical, and darkly comic.

With Gob's Grief and The Children's Hospital, Adrian announced himself as a writer of rare talent and originality. The stories in A Better Angel, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, and McSweeney's, demonstrate more of his endless inventiveness and wit, and they confirm his growing reputation as a most exciting and unusual literary voice.

white coat and a stethoscope and her hair done up in a smart bun, I asked her why she hadn’t warned me about the wasps. "I’m not that kind of angel," she said.

Though my father only ever knew a tenth of the trouble I’ve been in, I was still his least favorite child, and the last person he wanted taking care of him when he got very ill. But every one of my sisters was pregnant - one very much augmented and on purpose, and the other two accidents of fate. How they celebrated the coincidence, and then rued it when it forced them to bully me back to Florida from San Francisco. I was in clinic when they called, and it’s a testament to their power-of-three invincibility that they were able to blow through the phone tree and the two different receptionists who routinely deny my existence when patients try to find me. "Papa is sick," said Charlotte.

"He’s been sick," I said, because this had been going on for a year, and though nobody gets better ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

A Better Angel is a spiritual book that is noteworthy for what it lacks. There are no gods or saviors here, only a few angels and one very reluctant antichrist. The characters are inhabited or visited by entities they do not understand and who rarely strike them as divine. The people of Adrian's stories seem determined to live ordinary secular lives, despite the miracles that erupt into the everyday, as when a nineteenth-century farmboy begins seeing visions of people plummeting from a skyscraper. They don't want to know that the world contains more than three dimensions, in part because the veil that shields us from such realms only flutters aside when there is suffering.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Entertainment Weekly - Jennifer Reese

His less successful tales — and unfortunately there are more of these — tend to be overly hectic, struggling for transcendent effect. B-

Los Angles Times - Lizzie Skurnick

You can't deny that Adrian's prose is lovely, and if his characters' consciousness rarely fits the role he's chosen for them, a real heart lies beneath. That's the stuff Adrian needs to find pumping -- in stories where they can live as themselves, not as jerky zombies rattling around the haunted houses of the soul.

Elle

Adrian's handling of 9/11 in several stories captures his strongest suits: an instinctive mistrust of the glib and easy, and an insistent undertow pulling toward greater depths.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. With heartbreaking imagination, Adrian illuminates how people act out their grief on their own bodies and the bodies of others, and enter the world of the spirit in the process.

Kirkus Reviews

Abrasive, accusatory, despairing and, more than often enough, quite unforgettable fiction.

Booklist

Starred Review. The moment you feel as if you've discovered the meaning in his words, it slips between your fingers and leaves you unsettled, unmoored, and unmistakably impressed.

Reader Reviews
Amber

bleak, yet thoroughly entertaining
This book was an extremely well-written and imaginative collection of short stories, each one mildly incorporating the tragic events of 9/11. The stories range from intriguing to shocking, and I found the premise behind each of them highly creative. ...   Read More

Behnoosh Afiat talab

One of the ever best
It is a very good short story with a strange atmosphere which you unconsciously drown in and cannot get out easily. During the story you feel close to the hero and even feel his suffers deeply in yourself maybe because you also have had the same ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Chris Adrian may write about angels, but the man himself is a superhero.

He is a novelist…

He graduated with an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop after completing a Bachelors degree in English at the University of Florida. Mark Sarvas, a novelist and literary critic who blogs at The Elegant Variation, remembers being an undergraduate at the University of Iowa when Adrian was a graduate student. Word would get around whenever Adrian was workshopping one of his stories, and the undergrads would sneak into the grad student office to steal the photocopies. His previous novels are Gob's Grief and The Children's Hospital, which share characters with each other though they are ...

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