Saturday, July 3, 2010
I took just one book home with me from this year's BEA, Jessica Francis Kane's first novel, The Report. It's a Graywolf Press title—Graywolf, a first-rate house responsible for such first-class books as Alyson Hagy's latest, Ghosts of Wyoming. I don't think you can go wrong with a Graywolf book, and I can say, with absolute confidence, that you will not go wrong with The Report. Smart, compelling, riveting, whole, The Report is a book about history and those who write it, about blame and the consequences of diffusing it. It is a novel based on the real-life horror of a night in March, in London, in 1943, when 173 people seeking protection from a possible air raid, died on the steps of the shelter that was supposed to protect them. No bomb had gone off. No bones were broken. All of those who died died from asphyxiation—from an inexplicable pile-up on the stairs.
How in the world had it happened?
Laurence Dunne, a magistrate, is asked to find out. Systematically, he interviews 80 survivors. He listens to those who blame themselves and those who cannot be honest and writes a report so novelistic, so empathetic, that it haunts him and others for a long time hence. In Kane's perfectly well-imagined novel, that event, those survivors, and Dunne himself materialize, devastate, haunt. I was a most captivated reader, a reader Kane kept wholly spellbound from the first sentence to the very last.
Kane notes that she got the idea for this book some ten years ago, and that her two children were born during its creation. I believe that. There's so much wisdom here, so many important thoughts quietly but compellingly collected. Kane is a transparent writer, working with absolute clarity, allowing her reader to see straight through to the complicated heart of things.