The Facts of Life Paperback – 4 Nov 2004
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Jonathan Lethem author of "Motherless Brooklyn" I won't bother saying Graham Joyce deserves to find a wide audience in America; rather I think the American audience deserves to find him. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
An extraordinary evocation of an extraordinary family in WWII England by an award-winning author.See all Product description
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Set in during and post-WWII Coventry, England, the novel opens with "wayward ... fey" Cassie Vine and the bundle in her arms, Frank, whom she fails to give away to a prospective foster mother. Returning home to her mother, Martha and her six sisters, Cassie triggers a discussion that will set the tone and struggle for the rest of the novel. As Cassie herself "is the last girl on Earth fit to raise a child," Martha and her daughters agree that Frank should be raised by the entire clan.
Passed from Martha and Aunt Beatie Vine's own care to Aunt Una and Uncle Tom's farm, to his twin aunts Evelyn and Ina, it becomes clear that Frank is special and possessed of special abilities. Here at the farm, young Frank discovers the Man-Behind-The-Glass, a mysterious figure trapped in the Earth, constantly demanding that Frank bring him things.
Meanwhile, the secret of Frank's conception remains with Cassie, buried deep in the night that German bombers circled over Coventry dropping incendiary and explosive payloads until most of the city was leveled. Cassie, who is regularly possessed of "blue" periods during which she tends to wander far, must often leave Frank in the care of his more stable relatives, transferring him from household-to-household, including an experimental commune and a house with an active mortuary parlor in the back. From each he takes away a lesson about life.
Through it all, Martha watches, patiently directing Franks care from place-to-place, occasionally visited at the front door by precognitive apparitions that help her pave the way.
Though a quiet work, The Facts of Life is no less gripping than Joyce's more conventional work in novels like Requiem and The Tooth Fairy. It's gently graceful characters and precise language makes this alternately horrific and humorous work a treasure whose pages will have slipped through the reader's fingers far too quickly.
I am enjoying re-reading it now, a year after I first encountered its truly alive Vine family. I find myself pausing at the end of lines wondering, "Just how did Graham Joyce do this?" He certainly has ears that hear all, and the dialogue seems like the people of Coventry actually speaking to us.
It is all a terrific accomplishment that will make you an instant fan of his.
We first meet Cassie as she is about to give up her child to another family. She has already had a daughter who was taken in by a childless couple. But as she watches the minutes tick by, she decides to keep her son. Arriving home to her family she tells them all she is keeping Frank. Her mother, Martha, decides that maybe there is something special about Frank, so she agrees, provided the six other daughters help out with raising Frank.
As a result we see the lies of this family through Frank's eyes as he moves from sister to sister, from farmlife to the almost pristine house of his twin aunts, to a commune. It soon becomes clear that Frank has inherited some of his mother's feyness and some of his grandmother's ability to talk to the dead.
There is some wonderful writing in this book, when Frank tries to imitate his pregnant Aunt peeing for example. Comic touches can be found everywhere, as can potential threats to Frank and the family
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