Excerpt from The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Inward Empire

Mapping the Wilds of Mortality and Fatherhood

by Christian Donlan

The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan X
The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 336 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Valerie Morales
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

3.
Help Me

I was twenty-five when I saw what the brain can do.

Dawn in a house that my brother and his wife had recently bought — tall and thin with a spine of creaking staircases running through the center, surrounded by old rooms perfect for the clattering passage of young children, none of whom had yet been born. My dad had woken me from the sofa in the lounge. He brought me up to the big bedroom on the first floor. Inside, my brother was having a grand mal seizure.

I did not want to see Ben having a fit. I had felt, up to this point, that I could either be stoical or informed, and I had chosen stoicism. Dad, however, seemed to understand that I was faking adulthood, that I was a large child loose in the world and that nothing real had ever happened to me. There are ways I have learned to avoid becoming an adult. I can't drive. I never organized a pension until the government did it for me.

I have avoided thinking about this moment for the last decade, and so the memory is bright and sharp and undisturbed. I almost feel like I could reach out with my hand and push through some invisible boundary, the air parting in thick, mineral clods, to find myself back in that room, a red shirt hanging over the mirror, water spilled from a glass and exploring the grooves and divots of the bare floorboards. Ben is laid out on the bed in the recovery position, and Dad stands over him. Ben is rocking back and forth rhythmically, to an insistent soundtrack that only he can hear. His hands are fists, his mouth is open, one foot is flopping against the other again and again and again. I am stalled in the doorway. I have never wanted to run away quite so much as I want to run away right now.

Dad talks to me. He says: "Come in. Sit down." He speaks gently, but it is not quite a request. "Tell him you're here," he says. "Touch his arm. Show him you are here."

Ben did not look how I expected him to. I had seen the long-term sick by this point, and I had noted in my callous way how the ailing body sometimes seems like something forgotten and perhaps badly stored, creased and dirty and worn away. My brother's body did not look like that. He was tall and slim and unblemished, a parody of wellness as he twitched and shuddered on the bed. I put a hand on his leg. I had not touched my brother in years, it seemed. We feel things in my family, great, untranslatable emotions, as are felt, I imagine, in every family. But we do not touch each other often. I only did it now because I did not want Ben to die.

Family love is the most complex, the most selfish. I needed Ben to live so that I could continue being myself.

And this: for all the years of adulthood I have often fretted tediously, indulgently, unconvincingly, about who I am. I have never wondered what I am, because I saw it there with Ben, lit up brightly in that accident of synapses. I saw what we all are, and I saw, at least I thought I saw, how easily we can be wiped away, even if it's only for a few minutes. The thing I now wonder about that day: where was Ben when we all gathered together in his bedroom? Was he still in there, looking out from some deep interior, unable to surface? Was he silently screaming as he shook back and forth? Or had he been taken somewhere else entirely? Had he been dropped down, muted, set to pause?

I think of Dad too. I wonder what he was thinking.

One of the most interesting things about having a child and watching them grow is seeing how things come online in stages. They can focus on you, then they can smile. They can hold their head up for themselves, then they can crawl. The brain of a newborn is not finished. For years it is growing, new pieces of it firing up as the months pass. Even now, this does not end. As I write this, my daughter is almost four years old, and yesterday she came in while I was reading, scarecrowed herself forcefully in front of the mirror and, looking down at her clothes, said: "Does this work? "

  • 1
  • 2

Excerpted from The Inward Empire by Christian Donlan. Copyright © 2018 by Christian Donlan. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Latecomers
    The Latecomers
    by Helen Klein Ross
    The Latecomers is the third novel written by acclaimed author Helen Klein Ross, following What Was ...
  • Book Jacket: The Inflamed Mind
    The Inflamed Mind
    by Edward Bullmore
    It is common knowledge that depression diminishes the quality of sufferers' lives, but few people ...
  • Book Jacket: The Adults
    The Adults
    by Caroline Hulse
    Things have already fallen apart on the first page of The Adults. The novel opens with an emergency ...
  • Book Jacket: News of Our Loved Ones
    News of Our Loved Ones
    by Abigail DeWitt
    The Delasalle family of Abigail DeWitt's News of Our Loved Ones are no strangers to the dark specter...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Force of Nature
by Jane Harper

As atmospheric, tense, and explosive as her New York Times bestselling debut, The Dry!

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Golden Child
    by Claire Adam

    A deeply affecting debut novel set in Trinidad, following the lives of a family as they navigate impossible choices.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win Uncommon Type

Uncommon Type
by Tom Hanks

Surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and a must-have for Tom Hanks fans!

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Tell I T T M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.