Visible Worlds: A Novel

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9780060191481: Visible Worlds: A Novel

In Visible Worlds, award-winning Canadian poet and playwright Marilyn Bowering has created a beguiling, multilayered fiction that brings together two seemingly disparate stories as it races the shattering personal consequences of war. Spanning the middle part of our century, with World War II and the Korean War as its fulcrum, the novel expertly distills an epic story into a finely limned, elegant narrative of understated proportions.

Set in Canada, Germany, Korea, and the Soviet Union, Visible Worlds begins in 1960, with the death of Nate Bone on a Winnipeg football field, as his family and friends stand by and watch. The story then shifts to the tundra of Siberia, where, at the same time, a young woman identified only as Fika is trying to make her way from the Soviet Union to freedom. As the novel unfolds, these two seemingly unrelated events--literally worlds apart--become key pieces in Bowering's astonishing fictional puzzle.

That puzzle is assembled by Albrecht Storr, one of twin sons of German immigrants, who becomes the primary narrator of the novel. Looking back to 1935, when he, his brother Gerhard, and Nate were children together, Albrecht slowly recounts a chain of extraordinary events set off when Nate, still suffering from the death of his sister, kidnaps an infant girl. That reckless, long undetected act leaves few lives unaffected, and will lead, a quarter of a century later, to Fika's remarkable journey across the spare, life-threatening, yet inconceivably beautiful frozen landscape.

A cast of singular and highly memorable characters play out the drama of Visible Worlds. Albrecht's mother is a proud German whose devotion to what she views as the superior culture of the Fatherland has tragic consequences. His eccentric father believes in the literal power of human magnetism. Nate's mother, a once-beautiful bareback rider, plunges into insanity, while her philandering husband runs off with a tiger trainer for the circus. Seen through the prism of these characters' lives, the public horrors of this century come to reflect a personal legacy of abandonment, betrayal, and collective guilt.

A masterful, highly imaginative storyteller, Marilyn Bowering has infused her fiction with a lyrical magic and haunting emotional resonance.

"In Visible Worlds, Marilyn Bowering stretches a net of precise and capacious language across decades, continents, history, and landscapes, then gradually tightens it until her quarry stands revealed: the conjunctions of will and chance of which human fates are made. And always hovering are the magnetic lines of the heart--which burst forth sometimes in speed or deed, sometimes in celestial displays, always in the abiding mystery of connection."
--Jane Hirshfield

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Review:

Marilyn Bowering's Visible Worlds introduces at least 12 characters, cuts from Winnipeg to Siberia to the North Pole, shifts back and forth in time from 1960 to 1934, and depicts three crucial deaths. And that's just the first 14 pages. There's more to come--much more--in this book that takes on the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War, exploring their effects on three improbably intertwined families. The plot's remarkable contortions are too labyrinthine to describe here, but suffice to say they involve meteors, Nazis, several dead, deformed, and abandoned babies, personal magnetism, labor camps, polar exploration, the Odd Fellows, circus performers, and lots and lots of snow. Like her fellow Canadian Michael Ondaatje, Marilyn Bowering is primarily a poet, and her background shows: in the book's lovely imagery, in its striking economy of language, and also, perhaps, in its greatest narrative shortcoming. Ranging over four continents and nearly three decades, Visible Worlds often feels overly compressed, as if it wanted to be a longer, more leisurely book. On the other hand, this lyric compression gives the novel an almost violent intensity. With its complex web of settings, time periods, and plots, often connected by the most tenuous of threads, Visible Worlds feels like a fever dream yanked straight from the collective 20th-century unconscious. --Mary Park

About the Author:

Marilyn Bowering is a Canadian playwright, poet and novelist; her one previous novel was To All Appearances a Lady (1989)

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