Summary and book reviews of The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination

A Novel

By Kevin Brockmeier

The Illumination
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2011,
    272 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2012,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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About this Book

Book Summary

What if our pain was the most beautiful thing about us? In the aftermath of a fatal car accident, a private journal of love notes written by a husband to his wife passes into the keeping of a hospital patient, and from there through the hands of five other suffering people, touching each of them uniquely. I love the soft blue veins on your wrist. I love your lopsided smile. I love watching TV and shelling sunflower seeds with you.
 
The six recipients - a data analyst, a photojour­nalist, a schoolchild, a missionary, a writer, and a street vendor - inhabit an acutely observed, beauti­fully familiar yet particularly strange universe, as only Kevin Brockmeier could imagine it: a world in which human pain is expressed as illumination, so that one's wounds glitter, fluoresce, and blaze with light. As we follow the journey of the book from stranger to stranger, we come to understand how intricately and brilliantly they are connected, in all their human in­jury and experience.

Excerpt
The Illumination

It was Friday evening, half an hour before the light struck, and she was attempting to open a package with a carving knife. The package was from her ex-husband, who had covered it in a thick layer of transparent tape, the kind fretted with hundreds of white threads, the latest step in his long campaign of bringing needless difficulty to her life. She was sawing along the lid when she came to a particularly stubborn cross-piece of tape and turned the box toward herself to improve her grip. Her hand slipped, and just that quickly the knife severed the tip of her thumb. The hospital was not busy, and when she walked in carrying a balled-up mass of wet paper towels, her blood wicking through the pink flowers, the clerk at the reception desk admitted her right away. The doctor who came to examine her said, "Let's take a look at what we've got here," then gingerly, with his narrow fingers, unwound the paper from around her thumb. "Okay, this is totally doable. I don'...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Does your understanding of the Illumination change throughout the novel? Why or why not? What do you think it is, and what causes it?


  2. Discuss the structure of The Illumination. What is the effect of dividing the book into sections? With which characters did you most identify? Why?


  3. How do the epigraphs that begin each section of The Illumination evolve throughout the book? Does the change in tone of the epigraphs reflect how the characters' reactions to the Illumination change? And, your own? Why or why not?


  4. The Carol Ann Page section begins with an epigraph that says, in part, "The light is worth the pain." How does this relate to Carol Ann Page, and to the rest of the characters in The Illumination? Do you ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Illumination is a work of sheer imagination laid over the gritty reality of modern life. In beautiful sentences, with startling images of injuries, bodies, color and light, Brockmeier creates a symphony in six movements that brings a reader face to face with life in all its harsh reality and unlimited possibility.   (Reviewed by Judy Krueger).

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Media Reviews
Library Journal

A capable writer, Brockmeier... succeeds in describing the depressing circumstances of the characters, along with passing observations of a fragmentary and disorienting nature. Some readers may find this uplifting and inspiring, but others will feel pained by the suffering the novel seeks to illuminate.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Brockmeier's spectacular latest... gives readers an inspiring take on suffering and the often fleeting nature of connection.

Booklist

Starred Review. This is a radiant, bewitching, and profoundly inquisitive novel of sorrow, perseverance, and wonderment.

Reader Reviews
lynette collins

Loved it!
Kevin Brockmeier is a master at storytelling. Each one of his books is better than the last and "The Illumination" is no exception. You feel that you are right there with each of his characters. This is a must read.

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Kevin Brockmeier

Kevin Brockmeier has received the Borders Original Voices Award, three O. Henry Awards (one, a first prize), the PEN USA Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an NEA Grant. He was also named one of Granta Magazine's "Best Young American Novelists". He is known for his imaginative interpretations of modern life, his emphasis on the wonders around us, and the power of human connection. Illumination is his fifth novel; here's a look at some of his other works:

Things That Fall From the SkyThings That Fall From the Sky (2002): Weaving together loss and anxiety with fantastic elements and literary sleight-of-hand, this collection of short stories views the nagging realities of the world through a hopeful lens. One of the stories, "The Ceiling," won an O Henry Award ...

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