“Because what goes on in your head when you step out of the present is always richer and more satisfying than what you come back to when you’re done. That’s the sad part. That’s what’s at the core of melancholy, not the things you actually imagine. The present is disappointing in a way you can’t act upon while it’s happening. But once you’ve made a memory of something, you can throw away the meaningless parts and write better versions of it.”
I am in love with this novel. There, I said it. At 11 years old, Isidore “Izzie” Maza is the youngest of six children, all whose intelligent far surpasses his own. In fact, their intelligence surpasses most people, children and adults alike. Simone and he share a room, and though she isn’t much older, she is years ahead of him in school and already has plans for her success and has put Isidore in charge of collecting information about her to write her biography one day. While his siblings are in pursuit of vast knowledge and defending their dissertations, getting doctorates he is busy noticing all the details in life that are overlooked. Tragedy falls upon the family, but he is the only one that truly notices how it affects everyone. The siblings seem to go about life as usual, but there are cracks and Izzie is slipping in. Though he comes from a large family the house has never been one of excitement with his siblings living in their rooms in self-imposed exile. They have all the answers, but most of what Izzie knows are things his siblings don’t even realize they have missed. It’s a beautiful exploration on real intelligence and how striving to be the best comes at a cost.
When Izzie and Denise (another social outcast at school) become friends, the novel intensifies and breaks your heart at the conclusion. I felt sad for days after reading this gorgeous novel. It’s one of those stories that I don’t really care if anyone gets why I loved it. I think there is a bit of Izzie in all of us. He doesn’t know which way is up sometimes but he understands so much more than his older siblings do, yet he doesn’t even know he knows. I was thinking the author was going to fix people, and GOD I hate that. Real people know there aren’t any quick fixes for the big issues we face- death, depression, mental illness, old age. There is only learning how to go on carrying that weight, maybe hoping someone will come along and relieve it now and then. What happens with Denise was very well written, and terribly heart-wrenching. I read it two nights in a row, and losing sleep was no loss at all.
There is a charater named Daphné in the novel, so old young children are terrified of her but she is popular and celebrated for living so long. His encounters with her are a gem too, and the saddest quote in the book is how she describes living so long. I caught my breath, because it is what I imagine one who has outlived so many loved ones would feel. Of course, I can’t share that quote because this novel isn’t out here until August 15th of this year and I read an uncorrected proof. For me, this novel is perfection. Everyone in it is awful and beautiful. There is snobbery and a coldness in his siblings brilliance, but they haven’t really touched life yet, so buried in their books, music, etc. Much of what meaning they strive for crumbles in eldest sister (the one everyone looks up to and tries to be) Berenice’s life in Paris. But only Izzy is privy to the decline.
There isn’t much I can write without ruining the story. It is a beautiful dissection of one gifted family, and there are so many flaws in their perfection. Izzie humanizes each of his siblings simply by being different from them all. While he may not have an ease with educational pursuits, he is brilliant in his humanity and has things to teach his siblings that professors and books never will. I can’t gush about this novel enough. Read it! I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Camille’s writing! I think I have a new favorite author.
Publication Date: August 15, 2017
Tim Duggan Books