The Sunken Cathedral

Scribner. Jun. 2015. 208p. ISBN 9781476799322. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476799377. F
OrangeReviewStarSimone and Marie, two elderly widows in New York City, sign up for an art class to complete an unfinished painting by Simone's husband, while Elizabeth, a tenant in Marie's brownstone, becomes emotionally paralyzed by an assignment at her son's school meant to share insights into the students' families. Reading this hypnotic novel by Walbert, a National Book Award nominee for Our Kind, feels like falling down a rabbit hole of linked stories, with connections that resemble a trail of literary hyperlinks. In a postmodern quirk, effectively employed here, the novel contains numerous footnotes, which gradually take up more and more of the page. By design, the subtext overwhelms at times, the footnotes revealing the often painful undercurrents that lie just beneath the surface of the story. There are apocalyptic overtones, with themes of drowning, climate change, and an impending sense of doom. Though the novel seems to be set in the present, it feels more menacing than our current world, with sudden, dangerous storms and terrorism drills in school.
VERDICT An unconventional and unsettling novel with vivid imagery and passages of pure poetry. [See Prepub Alert, 12/8/14.]

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