cover image Tumbledown


Robert Boswell. Graywolf, $26 (448p) ISBN 978-1-55597-649-1

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. Boswell (The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards) spins an elaborate web of characters, and once the initial effort of keeping them straight subsides, the reward of knowing them is especially rich. Therapist James Candler works with young adults of various psychological diagnoses and mental limitations while struggling with his own life. Yet it is the constellation of people around him that makes the book’s development so fascinating. When Lise was a client of James’s, she was a stripper. Unbeknownst to James, when he moves to San Diego, Lise follows, reinventing herself with him in sight and hoping for love. Lise and James do eventually find something magnetic, though it’s limited to the two weeks before James’s fiancée will arrive, an urgency that increases the novel’s pace. As James’s clients try to keep their own hearts in check and James’s indecision mounts, Boswell brilliantly cuts back to childhood and the revelation that James had an autistic big brother named Pook. These slow and precise memories hold everything else together, emphasizing the profound affection we can feel for even the most unreachable. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (Aug.)