Oh, Kevin Brockmeier, thank you so very much for breaking my heart.
The Illumination swept me away and held me tight and didn't let go -- I inhaled this book over a 24-hour period, and actually didn't mind the fact that I was the only one awake in my house far into the night simply because I had this book for company. Told in successive vignettes from the perspective of six different people, a single notebook, filled with one sentence love notes from a husband to a wife, the novel tracks the impact of "The Illumnation" on their various lives. One day, peoples injuries, be it cancer or a canker sore, begin to glow with white light. All of a sudden, the world's population is lit up when they are in any kind of pain. And it affects each person differently, and utterly changes the world.
The novel begins with Carol Anne Page, who manages to slice off the tip of her thumb trying to get into a package that her terrifically mean-spirited ex-husband has mailed to her. While in hospital, with her glowing wound, she meets a kind doctor, and then has a roommate who dies in a car crash. As her light is just about to expire, the young woman tells Carol Anne to keep her journal -- inside are hundreds of love notes from her husband, whom she thinks perished in the crash -- and the book starts along a journey that essentially forms the basis of the plot of the book. What's going to happen to the book, how does it end up from one person to the next, and what does it mean to their lives.
It then goes back to the husband, to a young boy, a missionary, a writer and then finally a street person who sells books in NYC. Each story alights on the fact that their lives are somehow touched (or ruined in Jason, the husband's case) by these words and the pain they carry. All in all, it's an excellent novel, truly the best I've read so far this year (I know it's only March). The writing is spectacular and, like Blindness by Saramago, the supernatural event isn't cloying or overdone; it's simply another way to explore the human condition and how it changes when pressed in a direction it never imagined it would go. There isn't the "end of the world"-ness that you'd find in something like Children of Men or the aforementioned Blindness, but there is a sense that without The Illumination, these six individuals would never come together, even with the notebook, which is a fine thread to connect them together.
They are vastly different stories but they all have one thing in common, and that their internal pain in some ways now matches their external pain, and there's little that can be done about it, even in a day of modern medicine. Strange and exciting things happen to each of the characters as we follow them while they have the notebook -- it changes them sometimes, sometimes nothing changes except perhaps a level of acceptance of the true disappointment in life. Regardless, the stories broke my heart in a million different ways and I love that about a novel. In particular, the one told from the perspective of young Chuck Carter, whose rich and vivid imagination more than counterbalances the fact that his home life is terrifically mixed up and abusive, and that he has decided to stop talking. I wanted to reach into the book and tear the boy up with hugs, I wanted to shake his parents, and then I remembered it wasn't real.
I can't imagine liking a book more, I truly can't.