Thursday, July 4, 2013

A book that will make you better

Screw Eckhart and Deepak. If you're feeling dulled by everyday life, unmotivated, unmoved, unfeeling towards your common man, uninspired, skip the self-help aisle and head straight for the literary fiction. Because A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is the book that will make you better.

Marra takes on the subjects of loss, love, loyalty, innocence, deprivation, pain -- so, life -- with such glorious sensitivity, such appreciation for the minutiae caught up within each, that he's going to rub off on you. He'll make you want to write better than you ever have before and to be better, too.

Marra has a remarkable talent for what I'm going to call "extreme noticing." A wire, condensed milk, a pack of dogs, snow, a stranger. All of these things are elevated so artfully it makes you want to weep that you've spent so little time considering them, both as a writer and as a human being.

You're probably thinking "Duh. All authors notice stuff. That's how pages get filled." But I'm telling you: Anthony Marra notices better.

Until Marra's novel (his first, by the way, the bastard) never have I once made use of the highlighter on my Kindle, a tool that quickly became redundant. I mean, what was I going to do? Highlight every single word? So I let go of the menu button and I let his prose wash over me, cleansing my brain of that fucking Maroon Five song, how bummed I am to be home from vacation, and from the mental graffiti of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Finally, a cure for the aphorisms of NeNe Leakes. Oh how they ail me!

He's incredible with the big stuff, too. The horrors of war, the complications of sisterhood and fatherhood, the wisdom of a child who has seen too much, which he pulls off without making that wisdom saccharine or annoying as hell. 

Every line that flows from Marra's brain is brilliant and the depth of his observations makes me wonder if the man can ever relax. Can he take a walk without having to pull over to a bench every few minutes to take notes? Floss his teeth? Eat a beet chip? And, my God, dream?

I don't know how nature churned out a human with this much empathy, heart and talent all wrapped together. It seems like mad luck, the happiest of accidents. However he happened, I believe this planet of ours could use more souls like Anthony Marra. We could definitely use more writers.


  1. If you don't love it, I will walk your dog every night after work for two weeks. (You should probably get a dog.)

  2. You sold me, too, a total stranger, three+ months after posting. I just added my name to the Hold list at the digital library. I'm fifth in line for one of two books; it shouldn't be a long wait. I'm looking forward to it. Thanks!

    1. I hope you like it, Jen! It's still on my top 10 of 2013 list and I've read some great stuff since. And thanks for commenting/reading!