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Bright before Us (Tin House New Voice)

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Bright before Us (Tin House New Voice) Cover

ISBN13: 9781935639077
ISBN10: 1935639072
Condition: Standard
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Staff Pick

Katie Arnold-Ratliff's debut novel is a gorgeous, wrenching, razor-sharp portrait of a young man's life unraveling. Through emotional immediacy, wonderfully drawn characters, and chiseled prose, Bright before Us marks the arrival of a shining new literary talent.
Recommended by Jill Owens, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

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Publisher Comments:

Facing the prospect of fatherhood, disillusioned by his fledgling teaching career, and mourning the loss of a fraught former relationship, 25-year-old Francis Mason is a prisoner of his past mistakes. But when his second-grade class discovers a dead body during a field trip to a San Francisco beach, Francis spirals into unbearable grief and all-consuming paranoia. As his behavior grows increasingly erratic, and tensions arise with the school principal and the parents of his students, he faces the familiar urge to flee — a choice that forces him to confront the character weaknesses that have shattered his life again and again — and to accept the wrenching truth about the past hes never been able to move beyond.

Review:

"Arnold-Ratliff's impressive debut explores an everyman's descent into madness, rendering his ungluing with a palette heavy in paranoia and disillusionment. Narrator Francis Mason, a young teacher in San Francisco whose second-grade class discovers a body while on a field trip to the beach, is hung up on memories of a whirlwind romance with his childhood soul mate, Nora, that followed her parents' death in a car accident. Meanwhile, his unhappiness in his marriage grows in intensity from neglecting and harboring a quiet disdain for his pregnant wife to erratic behavior and verbal abuse. Meanwhile, there's an increasingly amplified dissonance between what is (possibly) real and (possibly) imagined, particularly in relation to what happened at the beach, and soon paranoia sets in as Francis begins to believe his students' parents and the police are out to get him, despite indications that he's well liked. Arnold-Ratliff has a knack for juxtaposing familiar imagery (a classroom poster of Einstein with his tongue out) with startling description ('You looked like a Halloween costume of yourself, like your face was on crooked'), and despite the occasional forays into cloying breathlessness, Francis proves to be a formidable narrator, tough to crack and a morbid pleasure to observe. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWxyz LLC)

Review:

"[Katie Arnold-Ratliff's] undeniably gorgeous prose and ability to launch troubled characters into impossible, tumultuous situations mark her as a writer to watch." Booklist

Review:

"In Bright before Us, Katie Arnold-Ratliff writes sentences that have the luminous candor of X-rays, laser-traceries of the human heart. Young Francis is a fascinating and exquisitely drawn character, and the urgency of his story left me breathless." Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

Review:

"What a rare book! Bright before Us is an unrequited love story, but it's also a meditation about the flash decisions we make, or fail to make, and the devastating way they undo us. A remarkable and compassionate debut." Robin Romm, author of The Mercy Papers

Review:

"Bright before Us — an ambitious debut novel from O assistant editor Katie Arnold-Ratliff — is a nihilistic road trip of a book, full of lyrical, dreamlike prose. It's also a story that reminds us that love, however deeply felt, is not necessarily pretty or kind." O, The Oprah Magazine

Review:

"An unmoored man who yearns for a woman he failed, while failing another (his wife), is still able to claim he just wants 'the lazy momentum of a married evening.' This duality is central to the author's creation of the disequilibrium she sustains throughout Bright before Us. The chilly and unforgiving beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area is a perfect fit for this eerie, impeccably told story." Amy Hempel, author of The Dog of the Marriage

Review:

"In Katie Arnold-Ratliff's relentless debut, the ragged ends of a relationship are set on fire with intense and inventive language, and thrown against a darkened sky." Ed Park, author of Personal Days

Review:

“With lilting description and deft handling of often-strange scenes, Arnold-Ratliff guides the reader over new, sometimes bloodied, ground on the ancient battlefield of love and marriage.” ForeWord Reviews

About the Author

Katie Arnold-Ratliff received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She is on the editorial staff of O, The Oprah Magazine, where her writing appears regularly. She lives in New York.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 7 comments:

Lisa Brown, July 9, 2012 (view all comments by Lisa Brown)
Got myself a signed copy of this little beauty through Powell's Indiespensible program, and once again, my favorite independent bookseller did not disappoint.
The protagonist weaves a trainwreck of a tale, but if you're anything like me you won't be able to tear yourself away. An asshole, yes, but not a wholly unlikeable one [though he comes awfully close at times]. That being said, it's a story that rings fairly true, and for as reprehensible as the protagonist's actions may at times seem, he's not all bad and you have to wonder why certain other characters insist on being such gluttons for punishment.

If you typically shy away from stories designed to make you sad without following the downer up with some sort of uplifting positive message, then this probably isn't the book for you. It's sad and depressing, through and through. Which I guess is largely why it feels real to me. If you can find something worthwhile in pain and angst and some hopelessness and regret, then do yourself a favor and give this a shot.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(3 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
Lisa Brown, July 9, 2012 (view all comments by Lisa Brown)
Got myself a signed copy of this little beauty through Powell's Indiespensible program, and once again, my favorite independent bookseller did not disappoint.
The protagonist weaves a trainwreck of a tale, but if you're anything like me you won't be able to tear yourself away. An asshole, yes, but not a wholly unlikeable one [though he comes awfully close at times]. That being said, it's a story that rings fairly true, and for as reprehensible as the protagonist's actions may at times seem, he's not all bad and you have to wonder why certain other characters insist on being such gluttons for punishment.

If you typically shy away from stories designed to make you sad without following the downer up with some sort of uplifting positive message, then this probably isn't the book for you. It's sad and depressing, through and through. Which I guess is largely why it feels real to me. If you can find something worthwhile in pain and angst and some hopelessness and regret, then do yourself a favor and give this a shot.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(2 of 5 readers found this comment helpful)
Denzel, July 13, 2011 (view all comments by Denzel)
A menagerie of annoying characters. I hadn't read all the good press until I'd finished this book and I can't figure out what the big deal is. Ratliff spends so much time detailing the every fart in a characters day that I have to wonder what was her editor thinking in not having her cut a large amount out of the B story. I understand that paranoia and self obsession are thematically important to her story and style, but the extent in which she fixates on insignificant conversations and actions, makes pages long, and the novel feel like a writing exercise. In the end: I found the narrative rambling and non compelling, the author's writing too cautious, and the conclusion safe and predictable.

I would not recommend this book.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 7 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9781935639077
Author:
Arnold-Ratliff, Katie
Publisher:
Tin House Books
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Series:
A Tin House New Voice
Publication Date:
20110531
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
7.25 x 5 in

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Related Subjects

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Featured Titles » Staff Favorites
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Family Life

Bright before Us (Tin House New Voice) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$4.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Tin House Books - English 9781935639077 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Katie Arnold-Ratliff's debut novel is a gorgeous, wrenching, razor-sharp portrait of a young man's life unraveling. Through emotional immediacy, wonderfully drawn characters, and chiseled prose, Bright before Us marks the arrival of a shining new literary talent.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Arnold-Ratliff's impressive debut explores an everyman's descent into madness, rendering his ungluing with a palette heavy in paranoia and disillusionment. Narrator Francis Mason, a young teacher in San Francisco whose second-grade class discovers a body while on a field trip to the beach, is hung up on memories of a whirlwind romance with his childhood soul mate, Nora, that followed her parents' death in a car accident. Meanwhile, his unhappiness in his marriage grows in intensity from neglecting and harboring a quiet disdain for his pregnant wife to erratic behavior and verbal abuse. Meanwhile, there's an increasingly amplified dissonance between what is (possibly) real and (possibly) imagined, particularly in relation to what happened at the beach, and soon paranoia sets in as Francis begins to believe his students' parents and the police are out to get him, despite indications that he's well liked. Arnold-Ratliff has a knack for juxtaposing familiar imagery (a classroom poster of Einstein with his tongue out) with startling description ('You looked like a Halloween costume of yourself, like your face was on crooked'), and despite the occasional forays into cloying breathlessness, Francis proves to be a formidable narrator, tough to crack and a morbid pleasure to observe. (May)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWxyz LLC)
"Review" by , "[Katie Arnold-Ratliff's] undeniably gorgeous prose and ability to launch troubled characters into impossible, tumultuous situations mark her as a writer to watch."
"Review" by , "In Bright before Us, Katie Arnold-Ratliff writes sentences that have the luminous candor of X-rays, laser-traceries of the human heart. Young Francis is a fascinating and exquisitely drawn character, and the urgency of his story left me breathless."
"Review" by , "What a rare book! Bright before Us is an unrequited love story, but it's also a meditation about the flash decisions we make, or fail to make, and the devastating way they undo us. A remarkable and compassionate debut."
"Review" by , "Bright before Us — an ambitious debut novel from O assistant editor Katie Arnold-Ratliff — is a nihilistic road trip of a book, full of lyrical, dreamlike prose. It's also a story that reminds us that love, however deeply felt, is not necessarily pretty or kind."
"Review" by , "An unmoored man who yearns for a woman he failed, while failing another (his wife), is still able to claim he just wants 'the lazy momentum of a married evening.' This duality is central to the author's creation of the disequilibrium she sustains throughout Bright before Us. The chilly and unforgiving beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area is a perfect fit for this eerie, impeccably told story."
"Review" by , "In Katie Arnold-Ratliff's relentless debut, the ragged ends of a relationship are set on fire with intense and inventive language, and thrown against a darkened sky."
"Review" by , “With lilting description and deft handling of often-strange scenes, Arnold-Ratliff guides the reader over new, sometimes bloodied, ground on the ancient battlefield of love and marriage.”
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