cover image Census


Jesse Ball. Ecco, $25.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-267613-9

Ball’s latest (after How to Set a Fire and Why) is an intensely moving and dazzlingly imagined journey of a dying father and his disabled adult son as they make their way through a sometimes recognizable yet ultimately mysterious terrain. The unnamed father, a widower, narrates the novel as he travels with his son as a census taker for an obscure governmental agency, entering the homes of strangers and marking them with a tattoo on their ribs to indicate that they have been counted. For the narrator, the census is both a reckoning with the human world that he is about to leave behind and a way of saying goodbye to his son by finally taking the trip across the country that he and his late wife had often spoken of. As they head toward Z, the ultimate destination, their encounters with others along the way reveal the beautiful yet brutal range of human experience. A brief preface to the novel reveals that Ball’s older brother, who had Down syndrome, died at a young age, and the novel is an effort to create a portrait of the person he had been through the eyes of his caretaker, a role the young Ball imagined eventually inhabiting. This novel is a devastatingly powerful call for understanding and compassion. (Mar.)