BookBrowse Reviews A Better Angel by Chris Adrian

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

A Better Angel

Stories

by Chris Adrian

A Better Angel by Chris Adrian X
A Better Angel by Chris Adrian
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 240 pages

    Paperback:
    Jul 2009, 304 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Amy Reading
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


Heartbreaking, magical, and darkly comic tales

Chris Adrian writes piercing, astonishing, deeply serious stories that sound utterly ridiculous if you only describe their plots. His second novel, The Children's Hospital, one of the best novels I've read in the last five years, is about a hospital that turns into an ark during an apocalyptic flood and bears its inhabitants towards a new land. How corny is that? Yet Adrian pulls it off because, though his conviction in his own fictional world never wavers, he persistently undercuts the ponderousness of his symbolism with irreverence, and the combination comes off sounding a lot like wisdom.

Adrian's literary terrain is best categorized as magical realism, in which none of his characters are surprised when supernatural happenings overtake their otherwise recognizable world. One story features an angel who begs her human host to take another hit of heroin, and then turns from a hag into a beautiful maiden the instant he does. In another story, a little boy's soul disappears from his body, replaced by a chorus of voices who cry for vengeance for the 9/11 attacks. "We are here because your faithlessness called us to you, and we will stay until you remedy it with sincerity and sacrifice," the boy changeling growls. His father makes it macaroni and cheese.

The stories are, without exception, deeply disturbing. Consider, for instance, "Stab," in which a girl who has lost both parents befriends a boy whose Siamese twin has just died. Together, they roam the neighborhood at night with a dagger, murdering pets and woodland creatures. Or "A Child's Book of Sickness and Death," featuring Cindy, an "ex-twenty-six-week miracle preemie," now eight years old, lacking most of her intestines, a regular in the pediatric ward, and the author of a children's book about fantastically diseased animals: "See the zebra? She has atrocious pancreas oh! Her belly hurts her terribly….Her stripes have begun to go all the wrong way, and sometimes her own poop follows her, crawling on the ground or floating in the air, and calls her cruel names. Suffer, zebra, suffer!" Adrian writes with a macabre, knowing humor that always drives toward a weighty theological quandary, what you'd get if you crossed the movie "Harold and Maude" with the novels of Marilynne Robinson.

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.

If the story collection has a flaw, it is repetition. It comes as no surprise to learn from interviews that Adrian lost a brother in a car accident fourteen years ago, because so many of his characters are hollowed out and made otherworldly by grief, and so many of his stories are wish fulfillments of the desire to bring back a lost one. Three of the stories are haunted by the specter of 9/11, a preoccupation which feels somewhat belated in 2008, as if Adrian is reaching for a bridge between his personal grief and a more universal state of fallenness.

For all his invocations of a divine realm beyond the known world, Adrian is coy about his religious beliefs. The title story perhaps offers the best insight into his perception of human nature. A drug-addled doctor who has conned his way into the profession also happens to have a pesky angel who has dogged him since childhood, urging him to be his better self. When his father becomes ill, she steps up her pleas for him to assume his full godhood. "Just put out your hand to him and he will be healed," she exhorts. "Just put out your hand to him, and you will undo all the pain you've caused me." The doctor refuses, and just before his father dies, he tells him, "I want a better angel, Dad." I venture that this is Adrian's spiritual worldview, that we are all shadowed by divinity but disbelieving and dismissive of the power we already have, always wanting more.

Reviewed by Amy Reading

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2008, and has been updated for the August 2009 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • 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 $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join and Save 20%!

Become a member and
discover exceptional books.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: I'm the Girl
    I'm the Girl
    by Courtney Summers
    YA author Courtney Summers doesn't believe in shielding her teenage readers from the world's darkest...
  • Book Jacket: They're Going to Love You
    They're Going to Love You
    by Meg Howrey
    Teenage Carlisle lives with her mother in Ohio, but their relationship has never felt particularly ...
  • Book Jacket: The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    The Life and Crimes of Hoodie Rosen
    by Isaac Blum
    That irreplaceable feeling of everyone knowing your name. The yearning to be anonymous. Parents ...
  • Book Jacket: Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    Now Is Not the Time to Panic
    by Kevin Wilson
    The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Honor
by Thrity Umrigar
Set in India, a tender and evocative novel about love across a cultural divide, familial devotion and betrayal.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Our Missing Hearts
    by Celeste Ng

    From the author of Little Fires Everywhere, a new novel about a mother’s unbreakable love in a world consumed by fear.

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

W N, W Not

and be entered to win..

Who Said...

Be sincere, be brief, be seated

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.