Jenny Offill Last Things

ISBN 13: 9780747545989

Last Things

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9780747545989: Last Things
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To eight-year-old Grace Davitt, the world is full of strange wonders. Through the eyes of her mother, Anna—an ornithologist who speaks five languages—their small lakeside town in Vermont becomes a glittering mystery filled with secret tongues, monsters in the lake, and birthday parties for the Earth. Anna’s untamed spirit stands in sharp contrast to that of Grace’s father, a chemistry teacher who examines his surroundings through the lens of rationalism and order. As Grace’s family begins to fall apart and she finds that she must choose between her parents, her conflicting loyalties take her on a remarkable journey that spans all corners of the country—and of her own boundless imagination.

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"My mother knew a lot about spies and sometimes hinted that she had been one once. She knew a way, for example, to make an umbrella shoot a poison dart. Also that the CIA had tried to kill the president of Cuba with an exploding clam. She showed me how to send secret messages by underlining words in a newspaper and dropping it on a bench."

To 8-year-old Grace Davitt, her mother is a puzzling yet wonderful mystery. This is a woman who has seen a sea serpent in the lake, who paints a timeline of the universe (in which "one billion years of real time = 24 days on the cosmic calendar") on the sewing-room wall, and who teaches her daughter a secret language which only they can speak. To the reader, however, it soon becomes clear that Anna Davitt is more than just eccentric. As her obsessions grow, her relationship with Grace's father, Robert, gradually deteriorates until at last the family breaks apart and Grace is left alone with her unstable mother.

Writing an adult novel from a young child's point of view is a tricky business, but Jenny Offill pulls it off without breaking a sweat. God is in the details here, and these are spot-on, from young Grace's fascination with the blind girl who lives in the neighborhood to her speculations about the prior tenant of the uninhabited dog house in the backyard. Grace inhabits that peculiar geography of childhood where all things are reasonable, from the descriptions of gazelle-boys in her Encyclopedia of the Unexplained to her mother's mercurial mood shifts. What makes Anna Davitt's spiral into madness so unnerving is the fact that to her daughter this is business as usual. Last Things has been compared to that other classic of unconventional childhood, Housekeeping; certainly Offill's debut is richly deserving of the company it keeps. --Alix Wilber

From the Inside Flap:

Grace's father believes in science and builds his daughter a dollhouse with lights that really work. Grace's mother takes her skinny-dipping in the lake and teaches her about African hyena men who devour their wives in their sleep. Grace's world, of fact and fiction, marvels and madness, is slowly unraveling because her family is coming apart before her eyes. Now eight-year-old Grace must choose between her two very different, very flawed parents, a choice that will take her on a dizzying journey, away from her home in Vermont to the boozy, flooded streets of New Orleans--and into the equally wondrous and frightening realm of her own imagination.
With eloquence and compassion, Jenny Offill weaves a luminous story of a wounded family and of a young girl yearning to understand the difference between fiction, fact, and hope. A novel of vibrant imagination and searing intelligence, Last Things is a stunning literary achievement.

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