Bright Before Us

Katie Arnold-Ratliff, Tin House (PGW, dist.), $14 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-935639-07-7
Arnold-Ratliff's impressive debut explores an everyman's descent into madness, rendering his ungluing with a palette heavy in paranoia and disillusionment. Narrator Francis Mason, a young teacher in San Francisco whose second-grade class discovers a body while on a field trip to the beach, is hung up on memories of a whirlwind romance with his childhood soul mate, Nora, that followed her parents' death in a car accident. Meanwhile, his unhappiness in his marriage grows in intensity from neglecting and harboring a quiet disdain for his pregnant wife to erratic behavior and verbal abuse. Meanwhile, there's an increasingly amplified dissonance between what is (possibly) real and (possibly) imagined, particularly in relation to what happened at the beach, and soon paranoia sets in as Francis begins to believe his students' parents and the police are out to get him, despite indications that he's well liked. Arnold-Ratliff has a knack for juxtaposing familiar imagery (a classroom poster of Einstein with his tongue out) with startling description ("You looked like a Halloween costume of yourself, like your face was on crooked"), and despite the occasional forays into cloying breathlessness, Francis proves to be a formidable narrator, tough to crack and a morbid pleasure to observe. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/21/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
Open Ebook - 283 pages - 978-1-935639-08-4
Hardcover - 288 pages - 978-1-935639-19-0
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