At age thirty-three, James Candler seems to be well on the road to success. He's in line for a big promotion at Onyx Springs, the treatment facility where he's a therapist. He has a fiancée, a sizable house, and a Porsche.
But ... he's falling in love with another woman, he's underwater on his mortgage, and he's put his hapless best friend in charge of his signature therapeutic program. Even the GPS on his car can't seem to predict where he should turn next. And his clients are struggling in their own hilarious, heartbreaking ways to keep their lives on track. How can he help them if he can't help himself?
In Tumbledown, Robert Boswell presents a large, unforgettable cast of characters who are all failing and succeeding in various degrees to make sense of our often-irrational world. In a moving narrative twist, he boldly reckons with the extent to which tragedy can be undone, the impossible accommodated.
These characters, whatever their faults or shortcomings, seek love, connection, and dignity, just like anyone else. Boswell's novel reminds us of the fragility of these kinds of connections but also of their vital necessity—it recognizes the imperfections of "this tumbledown world," while highlighting the power and potential of every person to seek beauty and find meaningful relationships with others. (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).
The Kansas City Star
Often funny and always electrifying . . . One can’t help but be reminded of the skill and grace of [Denis] Johnson.
The New York Times Book Review
[Boswell] shows a sensitive and comprehensive understanding of the quirks that can shake a person off course: from fear, passivity and pride to external knocks and dings that are easier to spot, harder to fix.
The Boston Globe
Boswell is capable of calibrating the blur of emotion with exquisite precision.
The Washington Post Book World
Utterly compelling . . . Boswell moves from the absurd to the tragic without comment, excuse, or explanation.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Stunning . . . Cross Anne Tyler with Michael Chabon and you’d get a cast something like the one Boswell has bred.
[An] absorbing tale of modern chaos steeped in moral issues.
Boswell displays immense talent for characterization and observation ... An impressive work.
Starred Review. This is a crowded, tender, and captivating novel, the experience of which brings to the fore how reading itself can replenish our love of the imperfect beauty of humanity.
Starred Review. Within a suspenseful plot spiked with love triangles and flashbacks, Boswell renders each complex psyche and scene with magnificent precision and penetrating vision, fine-tuning our definitions of disorder and healing and deepening our perception of what it is to be normal, what it is to be human.
Robert Boswell has always been an extremely appealing writer: uncommonly intuitive, a sparkling observer, graceful yet surprising sentence-to-sentence; and always in pursuit of important complexity in human behavior - a rare gift, which makes his writing increasingly essential.
David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
If you read Tumbledown in public, beware: Boswell's story is barkingly, snort-spurtingly, people-give-you-looks funny. Yet its humor is the most generous kind, uncynical and unsentimental, and woven through an ensemble story so large-hearted it keeps bursting its narrative seams... I finished it with a long contented sigh, thinking, this is why I love reading novels.
Part of what brings together the characters in Tumbledown is their participation in a vocational rehabilitation program—in this case, training in an assembly-line setup designed to teach them to work on an actual factory floor. As portrayed in the novel, this type of work not only offers patients (modest) financial compensation, it also prepares them for real life after rehab.
Vocational rehabilitation and/or training is part of the treatment program for many conditions; the state of Texas's Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services lists a wide variety of disabilities—ranging from mental illness to hearing impairment—for which vocational rehabilitation might be appropriate. Part of the impetus for such programs is the stated goal of many patients to obtain employment and thereby gain entry into the "normal" economy and society and achieve a sense of self-fulfillment, independence, and self-reliance.
The type of training program depicted in Tumbledown is what's known as a "sheltered workshop," in which patients with...
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