I love the way Curnutt uses the recurring motif of breath, vapor, ghosts, wind, mist, even fire ("The breath of God") to stress the vanity of St. Claire's search (even the name St. Claire at one point is mistaken for St. Cloud.) After all, as the author points out, the oft-quoted phrase from Ecclesiastes, "Vanities of vanities," literally means in Hebrew, "Vapor of vapors." It's rare to see a book about such an emotionally fraught subject as missing children handled so skillfully without devolving into mawkishness and cloying platitudes.
My wife reads a lot of thrillers. I firmly believe that this anxiety is largely fuelled by books and films that perpetuate the myth that we should fear strangers, when in fact we have more to fear from ourselves, our relatives, our friends, our neighbours. I would even go as far as to say that my wife and I are more much likely to harm our own kids or someone elses through our own negligence late for school again!
This is some damn fine writing, Mr. Curnutt. Yeah, Kirks book is kinda like that. Theres this despair and this anger and this overall sense of defeat that each character has to grapple with and the paths that they choose to walk or are pushed into or stumbled upon create this story that well, is downright fantastical. To be heard and to catalogue these thoughts like an egomaniacal preacher needing to spread the word. I became so engrossed in the story, in Siss wavering notion of what is ideal, in Petes simplicity, in Ethels stoicism, in Heims reluctant obsession, and mostly in the passion of St. Claires soliloquies.
The main characters in the novel have experienced this loss, and they deal with it in different ways. Outwardly strong, people look to her for comfort when a local boy goes missing. I loved all of the peripheral characters, and the richness they added to the novel.
There is so little distance between the thoughts of these characters and the reader that it's difficult to resist rooting for each of them (well, maybe not the pedophile entirely). I never imagined being transfixed by the tilling of soybeans, but Kirk describes Pete's loss so elegantly during these passages it makes me jealous that I'm not a novelist.
The book so far is not about the children themselves, since that has happened in the past, but about the way people react to pain and loss even years later. This was beautifully written, with absorbing characters, all of whom are in pain.
This book is about the differing ways the loss of a child can affect people, not just those immediately involved, but also radiating out into the lives around them, at the moment and over the years. The man totally wore out my sympathy for him by the end, so it was kind of the author to give him a more understanding ally in Heim.) Along the way, they meet Sis Pruitt, a woman whose teenage daughter Patty was murdered 17 years previously. Sis's shouting back at the world, while carrying on with her responsibilities, is the perfect contrast to St. Clair's self-obsessed search. Mr. Curnutt, your book gives me the creeps, in a powerful literature kind of way.
Breathing Out the Ghost by Kirk Curnutt is an indescribable novel. This novel is told from different points of view. Theres even one very disturbing chapter that is told from a pedophiles point of view. I think Breathing Out the Ghost deserves to be ranked with the great literature of this generation.
Bravo, Mr. Curnutt.
His first novel, Breathing Out the Ghost, won the 2008 Best Books of Indiana competition in the fiction category.