cover image Defenestrate


Renee Branum. Bloomsbury, $16 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-63557-739-6

Branum's quirky and poignant debut focuses on a family beset by bad falls. Unreliable narrator Marta and her twin brother, Nick, both in their 20s, have grown up with an anxious Catholic Czech mother who believes the family is cursed because their great-grandfather pushed a man to his death from an under-construction church steeple. Marta and Nick cope with the ever-present superstition and their own fears by acting out scenes from Buster Keaton movies. After their father's death from heart failure, they spend several years living in Prague, and upon returning to their Midwestern city, Nick falls from a fifth-floor window, injuring himself severely, and Marta must reckon with her own problems, including her alcohol abuse. As Marta begins to forge a new relationship with her mother, and to untangle the codependent dynamic with her brother, she takes tentative steps toward building a life apart from the family curse. Moody and descriptive rather than plot-driven, Branum's narrative jumps blithely through time without missing a step. While readers may guess the secrets Marta is careful to conceal from herself, the collage of striking scenes and reflections offers frequent delights. Readers willing to go out on a limb will find much to savor. Agent: Frances Coady, Aragi Inc. (Jan.)