This Magnificent Desolation: A Novel

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9781608192793: This Magnificent Desolation: A Novel

Duncan's entire world is the orphanage where he lives, a solitary outpost on the open plains of northern Minnesota. Aged ten in 1980, he has no memories of his life before now, but he has stories that he recites like prayers: the story of how his mother brought him here during the worst blizzard of the century; the story of how God spoke to him at his birth and gave him a special purpose.

Duncan is sure that his mother is dead until the day she turns up to claim him. Maggie Bright, a soprano who was once the talent of her generation, now sings in a San Francisco bar through a haze of whisky cut with sharp regret. She often finishes up in the arms of Joshua McGreevey, a Vietnam vet who earns his living as part of a tunneling crew seventy feet beneath the Bay. He smells of sea silt and loam, as if he has been dredged from the deep bottom of the world - and his wounds run deep too.

Thrown into this mysterious adult world, Duncan finds comfort in an ancient radio, from which tumble the voices of Apollo mission astronauts who never came home, and dreams of finding his real father.

A heart-breaking, staggering, soaring novel, This Magnificent Desolation allows a child's perspective to illuminate a dark world, and explores the creeping devastation of war, the many facets of loneliness, the redemptive power of the imagination, and the possibility of a kind of grace.

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About the Author:

Thomas O'Malley is the author of the novel In the Province of Saints, selected as one of the best books of 2005 by Booklist and the New York Public Library. He earned his MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and teaches at Dartmouth College. Raised in Ireland and England, O'Malley currently lives in the Boston area.

From Booklist:

*Starred Review* Duncan Bright, age 10 in 1980, remembers being born in a catastrophic blizzard and God speaking to him at that moment . . . and nothing else. Reclaimed by his mother, Maggie, whom he presumed dead, from a loving but bleak Catholic orphanage, Duncan maintains an aura of purity and goodness. He settles into a dreary life with his mother hard by the battered wharves of the San Francisco Bay among the forgotten poor. This literary novel soars and at times flat-out wanders off into reveries about pain, waste, angels, death, the ethereal beauty of song, traumatized Vietnam veterans, and Duncan’s imagined fate of the Apollo 11 astronauts who never return to earth (the title refers to Buzz Aldrin’s description of the lunar surface). O’Malley writes shimmering, luminescent prose. But the novel feels episodic at times, and the litany of despair may tire some readers. Yet it is a deeply spiritual novel about dissipation and waste. Although Duncan remains an enigma, Maggie is a fully realized character, a great opera singer whose career is snuffed out when her vocal chords are shredded following her breakthrough brilliant performance. Regrets, resignation, and a spiraling alcoholism fill her days as an occasional saloon singer, as she nevertheless provides Duncan with a love of great purity, filled with uncertain adventure. --Jonathan Schwartz

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