Census is one of those books that creeps up on you so slowly, you don't even realize you're falling in love with it. It starts out as an odd tale about an aging doctor who is facing the end of his life. He's widowed, and his grown son has Down Syndrome. Instead of hunkering down for his last few weeks, he takes a job as a census taker, and drives off on a road trip with his son. Ball has an almost imperceptible way of pressing his characters into your heart, and pretty soon, what seemed to be a strange and peculiar road trip has blossomed into a gorgeous love letter to parenting. The doctor's recognition of the requirement of leaving his son is devastating, and his son's limited understanding of it makes the situation even more heartbreaking. Written with lovely, spare prose, Ball's gorgeous homage to parenthood will knock you dead with its pathos, sorrow, and beauty. Recommended By Dianah H., Powells.com
Jesse Ball's latest book is like nothing you’ve ever read before. Set in an unnamed country composed of towns arranged from A to Z, the novel traces the path of its terminally ill narrator who, for his final act, is traveling as a census taker with his mentally disabled son. As he visits home after home, measuring lives while reexamining his own, it becomes impossible to ignore where this fateful journey is taking him. Both immersive and wondrous, Census is a meditative book about the modest roles we play in a sprawling world and the strength of human connections in the face of such enormity. Recommended By Renee P., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A powerful and moving new novel from an award-winning, acclaimed author: in the wake of a devastating revelation, a father and son journey north across a tapestry of town.
When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn't have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son--a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.
Traveling into the country, through towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet, the man and his son encounter a wide range of human experience. While some townspeople welcome them into their homes, others who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs are wary of their presence. When they press toward the edges of civilization, the landscape grows wilder, and the towns grow farther apart and more blighted by industrial decay. As they approach "Z," the man must confront a series of questions: What is the purpose of the census? Is he complicit in its mission? And just how will he learn to say good-bye to his son?
Mysterious and evocative, Census is a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory, and the ferocity of parental love, from one of our most captivating young writers.
"In sync with Italo Calvino, Paul Auster, and Howard Norman, Ball takes a matter-of-fact approach to surreal situations, which he deepens with finely rendered and realistic thoughts and emotions. His latest mysterious, mesmerizing, and insightful fairy tale… [is] mind-bending, gorgeously well told, and profoundly moving." Booklist (starred review)
"Ball writes dystopia and fabulism with a hushed, poetic grace; as with his other work, Census promises to be beautifully and precisely wrought." AV Club
"An ethereal meditation on love, the duty of a caretaker, and mortality." Kirkus Reviews
"Ball’s latest is an intensely moving and dazzlingly imagined journey...This novel is a devastatingly powerful call for understanding and compassion." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
Born in New York. The author of fourteen books, most recently the novel How to Set a Fire and Why. His works have been published to acclaim in many parts of the world and translated into more than a dozen languages. He is on the faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and won the 2008 Paris Review Plimpton Prize, was long-listed for the National Book Award. He was named one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists, and has been a fellow of the NEA, Creative Capital, and the Guggenheim Foundation.
Jesse Ball on PowellsBooks.Blog
Jesse Ball has had a fervent, if initially small, following since the publication of his first novel, Samedi the Deafness
; and before that, an avid fan base for his poetry. The Chicago Tribune
called him a "young genius,” he's won the Plimpton Prize, and been longlisted for the National Book Award. His work stretches the boundaries of what fiction can do...