Friday, May 20, 2011

Bright Before Us

From the very first sentence, I knew I was going to love Bright Before Us. The debut novel from Katie Arnold-Ratliff, it reads like something by a skilled, veteran author. By the time I read the last sentence, it had become one of my new recent favorites.

Set in San Francisco, its lovely, misty prose draws the reader into the fogginess of the Bay Area and tells the story of Francis, a twenty-something teacher who becomes undone after he and his class stumble upon a decomposed dead body during a field trip to the beach. We watch him, and at times despise him, as he tells increasingly bold lies about the incident, cruelly pushes away his pregnant wife, and lets his career fall to shambles. These scenes of unraveling are interspersed with flashbacks of his relationship with a girl from his past- his first love and fleeting first wife. Through an incredibly well done first person narration--the flashback scenes are actually addressed to "you", putting the reader in the shoes of the former girlfriend-- the reader gets inside Francis's head without ever full understanding him. I found myself alternately hating Francis and rooting for him. Ultimately, though, I found myself thinking endlessly about the sympathetically complicated characters in this book.

I'm so glad I stumbled across this at the library. Katie Arnold-Ratliff better get busy. I can't wait to read what she does next.

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