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Last Things by Jenny Offill
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Last Things

by Jenny Offill

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This is the author's debut, a gentle and sweet voiced story of a very close family and the devastation wreaked when the mom goes off the rails. Grace is a very precocious eight when her adventures with her mother Anna take a mysterious turn. Grace's implicit trust in her parents is touching, even when her mother spirits her away to the edge of poverty in New Orleans and to Burning Man. Perhaps Grace is too grown up to be real, but the writing is splendid and the story has a rhythmic flow. Her second novel, Department of Speculation, has a similar theme but is even better. ( )
  froxgirl | Feb 2, 2017 |
I didn't understand the book; I need things to be spelled out more. I finished it because I need to finish books that I start, and I was hoping it would get interesting. Although bits like the wonderful second quote below also made me want to continue.

There is a monstrous cousin who locks the young narrator in a dog house; she later does the same thing to a young neighbor.

Some quotes:
"... They're very convincing, these men, but their smiles give them away. There's not a man alive that smiles when he's wrong." [p. 16]

"Are you aware," she said, "that at the end of his life Jean-Paul Sartre renounced existentialism and turned to pie?" [p. 63] ( )
  raizel | Jan 17, 2017 |
I read this book because I LOVED Dept. of Speculation. This book had some of the same lyrical, wonderful writing, but the story didn't grab me. It was kind of YA (because the narrator, Grace, is eight), but it's also very adult. The parents were interesting characters--but they seemed like characters, not real people. I did love the writing so I'm a little torn on this one. I'll look forward to reading something else of hers. ( )
  KimHooperWrites | Feb 24, 2016 |
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Epigraph
Put your trust in the inexhaustible character of the murmer. ---Andre Breton
Dedication
for my grandparents
First words
"Once," my mother said, "there was no true darkness Even at night, the moon was as bright as the sun. The only difference was that the light was blue. You could see clearly for miles and miles and it was never cold And this was called twilight."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385334958, Paperback)

"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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:54 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"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"-- "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 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"--… (more)

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