cover image The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane

The Corps of the Bare-Boned Plane

Polly Horvath, . . FSG, $17 (261pp) ISBN 978-0-374-31553-5

The National Book Award–winning author of The Canning Season reprises many of her trademark themes in a novel even more idiosyncratic than its predecessors. Meline, the first of several narrators, begins the story just after a social worker has told her that her parents have been killed in Zimbabwe, where they were scouting for property. Her aunt and uncle were also killed, but her cousin, Jocelyn, traveling with them, has survived. Before long Meline and Jocelyn, strangers to each other, are on their way to live with their reclusive, ridiculously rich uncle Marten Knockers, a self-styled scholar, who has built a mansion on an island off British Columbia accessible only by helicopter. (Marten has deliveries dropped off—literally—by helicopter; often the contents shatter.) Much to Marten's displeasure, the household expands to include a cook, the bitter Mrs. Mendelbaum, an Austrian Jewish widow whose four sons have died; and the silent, all-knowing butler, Humdinger. All have been parted from their pasts—whether by quiet renunciation, bold repudiation or, like Meline and Jocelyn, by having it violently torn from them. Horvath's prose has rarely been more incisive: she understands the workings of grief and conveys them with uncanny accuracy and sympathy. The dark, unrestrained wit of her best writing, however, goes missing here, the humor flattened into joyless caricatures of Marten and the Yiddish-speaking Mrs. Mendelbaum. In its place, perhaps, the author offers a complex and sustained metaphor that appears to be about doomed flight; a climactic revelation broadens its scope to illuminate another Horvath specialty, the family secret. Unsparing, often grim, this book rejects false hopes in favor of fragile strivings for truth. Ages 12-up. (Aug.)