Synopses & Reviews
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.
"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)
"[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
"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!
"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
"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
"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
"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
“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.