cover image The Way the Family Got Away

The Way the Family Got Away

Michael Kimball. Thunder's Mouth Press, $25 (192pp) ISBN 978-1-56858-155-2

Detailing the cross-country migration of a nameless blue-collar family after the death of an infant child, Kimball's brief, unusual novel alternates narration by two extremely young characters: the family's surviving son and his barely school-age sister. Both points of view are delivered in rambling stream-of-consciousness as the family, in grief and desperation, packs everything they own into their car and drives to ""Bompa's"" house. They sell off their belongings in order to make enough money to get to each next town: the baby cradle, clothes, the kids' toys, even family pictures. Both children are disturbed by this gradual depletion, but the boy finds comfort in taking a sort of inventory of what was sold, while the little girl loses herself in make believe about her dolls. The children's perspective doesn't give a clear picture of the parents, who seem so neglectful and irresponsible that one wonders if they have gone insane with grief. Eventually, the mother becomes pregnant but miscarries, and, somewhat unbelievably, the family is robbed of its last meager possessions by roadside thieves. At book's end the parents abandon the children at Bompa's house. Kimball evinces an undeniable feel for the cadences of children's speech. He creates clever compound words--""house-car,"" ""night-sun,"" ""dirt-world""--for those frequent instances in which his young narrators find their limited vocabularies exhausted. But the notion that young children's thoughts contain a poeticism and profundity destroyed by the pressure to conform to adult society is presented with a heavy hand. Despite the presence of some genuine stylistic flair and a consistent tone, the tale feels underdeveloped, yet overworked. (May)