By Kevin Brockmeier, Pantheon, $24.95, 257 pages
The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier is a luminous tale, one with an ingenious premise. What if our pain was like a beacon to the world, radiating outward with light? Would we be more sympathetic to others if we could see what ailed them: a depressed mind, a bruised torso, a broken heart? In Brockmeier’s inventive novel, the world is an ordinary place, except that one day, everyone’s wounds begin to glow or blaze with an inexplicable light called “the Illumination.” This phenomenon occurs around the globe and medical experts don’t know what to make of it.
The narrative follows six protagonists as they cope with their own inner turmoil in a new environment where internal and external injuries are rendered obvious to all. Brockmeier’s characters each come into possession of a journal filled with professions of love from a husband to his wife. The couple was involved in an accident, and the wife died, but not before she gave the notebook to her hospital mate, a recent amputee named Carol Ann Page. Carol Ann eventually must return the journal to the wife’s widower, but not before she reads it, reveling in the daily outpourings of love, which cause her to reflect on the sadness and lack of love in her own life.These private words meant only for the eyes of a young couple in love become a source of healing to the people who read them, and the journal begins a journey through the hands of people in need of its therapeutic power. Through Brockmeier’s imaginative perspective on suffering, The Illumination provides an inspiring look at humankind’s ability to find beauty amid the sorrow.
Reviewed by Laura Di Giovine