An elderly man who lives in a crumbling house with his wife wakes up to find she has suffered a seizure in the middle of the night. He gets her to the hospital, where she lies in a coma for weeks, until she suddenly awakens. The two can finally return home, where she will live out her days.
Originally released in the U.K. in 2005 as How Much of Us There Was, Kimball’s second novel finally sees its stateside release. With less than 200 pages to play with, it’s remarkable the amount of perfectly expressed grief Kimball (Dear Everybody, The Way the Family Got Away) fits into such a slim volume. He hits upon the perfect voice of a mind suffering a deep personal tragedy, particularly one with a long, slow fallout.
The sentences and even paragraphs simulate the stunned but dutiful response to the suffering of a loved one: short, raw and somewhat elliptical, wrapping themselves around the small tasks at hand and the larger questions constantly raised. When the man takes his wife home from the hospital: “I started the engine of our car up, but I was afraid to drive us away from the hospital. I was afraid that she might stop breathing again and that we would need other people to help us keep her alive again. But I was afraid to turn the engine off too.”
What impressed me most is how much the man’s pain is never voyeuristic for the reader. Other than a few remembrances of relatives’ deaths, the husband is largely a blank slate, and Kimball’s short chapters cast such a hypnotic spell, the reader is able to plug directly into the character’s grief. It’s a simply gorgeous and astonishing book, the kind that makes the outside world disappear once you open its pages.