Summary and book reviews of Tumbledown by Robert Boswell

Tumbledown

by Robert Boswell

Tumbledown
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2013, 448 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2014, 456 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

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.

1

There are yet states of being that have no name, anonymous human conditions that thrive at the periphery of powerful emotion the way bedroom communities manacle a city. James Candler and Elizabeth Ray reside in such a place. Separately. They are new arrivals. Candler showed up the last week of January, purchasing a big stucco house snouted by a two-car garage. A few weeks later, Elizabeth Ray paused in her pale subcompact to eye his residence. Neither the ugliness of it nor its enormity could dissuade her. She circled the block several times to look it over. Around the corner, she parked at an apartment complex. Her studio-with-balcony rented by the week.

The subtle pleasures of suburban life would prove difficult for Candler to seize. Shoving the mower around his front lawn left him without the humblest sense of accomplishment: what could he do in that yard? The elementary school down the street spawned a daily pa¬rade of idling station wagons and SUVs, a surprisingly ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Early in the book we learn the IQ scores of several characters, as well as several cultural figures (page 57). How does this information frame how you read the rest of the book and evaluate the characters? Why do you think only Karly's score is officially on record? Do you think intelligence tests and tests of "psychological disorders" reveal the truth, or could the tests themselves be biased?
  2. Maura Wood—brazen, bold, "a rebel without a cause" as Billy describes her—loves schizophrenia-diagnosed Mick and pursues a lopsided friendship. "She wanted him to be well, and she needed him to be ill" (page 93). Why do we "need" people to be something that they don't want to be? How is Maura different from other characters? Is ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

Full Review Members Only (639 words).

Media Reviews

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 Kansas City Star

Often funny and always electrifying . . . One can’t help but be reminded of the skill and grace of [Denis] Johnson.

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.

Library Journal

[An] absorbing tale of modern chaos steeped in moral issues.

Kirkus Reviews

Boswell displays immense talent for characterization and observation ... An impressive work.

Publishers Weekly

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.

Booklist

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.

Author Blurb Richard Ford
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.

Author Blurb 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.

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Beyond the Book

Vocational Rehabilitation

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...

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