The Way the Family Got Away [NOOK Book]


In Michael Kimball's chilling first novel, The Way the Family Got Away, two siblings, a girl aged three and boy aged seven, try to comprehend the death of their infant brother. The story takes place on the road, as their family runs from their grief on a long and painful journey to their grandfather's house, slowly selling off all of their worldly possessions as they go. The children develop careful coping mechanisms to escape the grief and instability of their lives. The girl finds a new family in her dolls and ...
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The Way the Family Got Away

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In Michael Kimball's chilling first novel, The Way the Family Got Away, two siblings, a girl aged three and boy aged seven, try to comprehend the death of their infant brother. The story takes place on the road, as their family runs from their grief on a long and painful journey to their grandfather's house, slowly selling off all of their worldly possessions as they go. The children develop careful coping mechanisms to escape the grief and instability of their lives. The girl finds a new family in her dolls and plays out her own pain in the lives she creates for them; the boy makes a meticulous inventory of their trip, cataloging the names of the towns they drive through, the things they leave behind in each of them. Writing through the eyes and language of the children, Kimball tries to make sense of loss, love, and death in this poetic and profound work.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Detailing the cross-country migration of a nameless blue-collar family after the death of an infant child, Kimball's brief, unusual novel alternates narration by two extremely young characters: the family's surviving son and his barely school-age sister. Both points of view are delivered in rambling stream-of-consciousness as the family, in grief and desperation, packs everything they own into their car and drives to "Bompa's" house. They sell off their belongings in order to make enough money to get to each next town: the baby cradle, clothes, the kids' toys, even family pictures. Both children are disturbed by this gradual depletion, but the boy finds comfort in taking a sort of inventory of what was sold, while the little girl loses herself in make believe about her dolls. The children's perspective doesn't give a clear picture of the parents, who seem so neglectful and irresponsible that one wonders if they have gone insane with grief. Eventually, the mother becomes pregnant but miscarries, and, somewhat unbelievably, the family is robbed of its last meager possessions by roadside thieves. At book's end the parents abandon the children at Bompa's house. Kimball evinces an undeniable feel for the cadences of children's speech. He creates clever compound words--"house-car," "night-sun," "dirt-world"--for those frequent instances in which his young narrators find their limited vocabularies exhausted. But the notion that young children's thoughts contain a poeticism and profundity destroyed by the pressure to conform to adult society is presented with a heavy hand. Despite the presence of some genuine stylistic flair and a consistent tone, the tale feels underdeveloped, yet overworked. (May) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Reminiscent of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, this novel alternates between the stream-of-consciousness narratives of two very young children. Kimball (Mouth to Mouth) uses their voices to describe the events surrounding the death of their infant brother and their family's subsequent flight across country with the dead baby stored in a toy box in the trunk of their car. The older brother focuses on the distances they travel and the possessions they trade away to get from one place to another, while the sister attempts to make sense of her baby brother's death and her parents' apparent attempts to conceive a replacement. Both children struggle with the concept of "not being" and periodically attempt to revive their dead sibling. Unlike Faulkner's tragicomic novel, however, Kimball's story is relentless in its misery. He is successful in illustrating the children's attempts to cope with and make some meaning of their massive loss and complete powerlessness, yet the jumbled syntax of their thoughts soon becomes annoying. Rather than furthering the story, it seems contrived and gratuitous. Not essential.--Rebecca Stuhr, Grinnell Coll. Libs., IA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
— Kathleen Collins, New York Transit Museum Archives, Brooklyn
— Kathleen Collins, New York Transit Museum Archives, Brooklyn
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781620402184
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 11/6/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Michael Kimball is the author of The Way the Family Got Away, How Much of Us There Was and Dear Everybody, and his novels have been translated into a dozen languages. His work has been featured on NPR's All Things Considered and in the Guardian, Vice, Bomb and New York Tyrant. He is also a documentary filmmaker.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Whole Way We Got There

My brother's cradle and other baby stuff got us from Mineola to Birthrock. My mother's necklaces and other dress-up stuff got us from Birthrock to Stringtown. This girl there got my sister's doll people along with all the other things that went with her practice family. They told my sister she wasn't going to need her dollhouse and the doll people living in it anymore since we weren't living in our house anymore. So my sister's dollhouse and everything in it got us from Stringtown to Albion. That was where this other man got my father's pocketwatch and pocketknife along with some other things my father almost always kept with him whenever we went anywhere.

    Those things from my father's pockets got us from Albion and all the way out of Oklahoma to Hot Springs and our start through Arkansas. That was where this other boy got my baseball bat and baseball glove along with some other things they told me were too small for me. This other boy got all my clothes but for the handed-down-to-me suit of clothes they made me wear and that left me with a ways to go before it would fit me. My brother might have gotten the baseball stuff handed-down-to-him along with the clothes but he wasn't ever going to grow up into any of it anyway.

    So all my stuff got us from Hot Springs to North Little Rock and we stopped for that one night. That was where these other people got our pillows, blankets, sheets, and the other stuff that helped us sleep. We got from North Little Rock to Campbell Station and we kept going away. My mother's purse along witheverything she had left in it got us from Campbell Station to Biggerton. This other girl there got my sister's locket and chain that had a picture of my sister in it from when she was a baby and sick. But my sister did not die from that and that other girl getting it and that locket and chain still got us out of Biggerton and Arkansas and into Glenallen in Missouri. That was where these other men got my father's wallet along with all the stuff my father had left in his wallet. There were the family pictures of us and the cards that had the names of other people and other places on them. There wasn't any money left but we didn't need any money anymore anyway. My father's wallet along with all the stuff left in it got us from Glenallen to Anna, Illinois and left us in the middle of America with all those miles behind us and all those miles to go farther away in front of us.

    Anna was where this other boy got my guns, my holster belt, and all the bullets that went in my gun or went in the loops of my holster belt and around my waist. My guns and other play stuff got us from Anna to Giantsburg and Old Shawneetown, over the Ohio River, all the way out of Illinois, and up into the hump of Kentucky that has Henderson in it. That was where my mother traded her wedding dress and wedding ring away to this other lady that wanted to wear them and get married. That other lady also wanted the veil to the wedding dress but my mother didn't have it or any of her other wedding things left but my father. But my mother's wedding things still got those two other people married and us from Henderson to Hendricksville. This girl there got all my sister's clothes but for the dress my sister put on to wear out of Hendricksville, up through Six Points, Big Sheridan, Russellville, and into Bennetts Switch.

    It was there that we got down to where my mother's clothes were almost the last stuff of hers that anybody else really wanted and that got us from Bennetts Switch to Frederick Perrytown. This other brother and sister there got the record player and records that my sister and me played in the back seat. The record player and records made somebody up out of words and songs but trading them away also got us out of Frederick Perrytown, out of Indiana, and up into Edwardsburg at the beginning of Michigan.

    All this stuff so far got us up to where this man got the silver frame with the picture of our whole family in it—the picture that had all the old people in it that were already dead and some others of us that weren't dead yet. Our family was going to need everybody we had left in it to get there. That silver frame with the family picture and all those dead people and us got us the miles that got us out of Edwardsburg, up through Schoolcraft, over to Battle Creek, and into Sunfield. That was where this other father and his family got our suitcases and the other things where we had packed our stuff up. Those suitcases, boxes, and crates were almost empty anyway and that other father and his family let us keep the things we had left in them—the underwear and the shoes, the doll parts, our dirty clothes, and some other stuff of ours that nobody else ever wanted but us. My brother was the only empty thing that we kept with us.

    But there was all that other stuff that wasn't ours anymore. There was that other family on their way to somewhere else. There was all our other stuff with all those other people and other families all over America. But all this stuff so far also got us out of Sunfield, into and out of Lyons and Hubbardston, and up into Far Town. These other people there got everything we had left in the glove box—the maps and our other car papers, the flashlight, a pair of sunglasses, some batteries, a sewing kit, a first-aid kit, some gloves, and some other small things that fit in there. All that stuff from the glove box got us all the way out of Far Town and up into Morrison. That was where there were some men along the way that took our spare tire along with the hubcaps, the tire jack, the lug wrench, and some other tools that were in the trunk. Those men took our back seat for the back of their pickup truck and took our rearview mirror so they could see if anybody else was sitting down in it. The rest of our car got us up through Marceytown and Roscommon, on through Toms Mile, Bradford, and some other places that got their names from people that must have done stuff. Or maybe people got that far and then just stopped so that the town and everybody else kept growing up out of all those miles. We stopped in Gaylord and kept going—into its streets and up to the two-story house that was going to have Bompa coming out of it to take us inside it.

    That was as far as all that stuff got us. There were all those towns that we stopped at and all those towns that we did not stop at until we got to Gaylord. We traded for the next town in Hot Springs and in Anna, in Henderson and in Frederick Perrytown, in places that never got big enough to get a name, and in all the other towns along the way that already had their names. We traded our stuff away for miles. We traded for the lives of other people, what might have happened to us for what did.

Chapter Two

Living Anymore in Mineola

My brother's fever wouldn't leave him or us and our house. My mother took how hot my brother was from out of his mouth but his fever didn't go down. She rubbed ice cubes on his forehead and lips that melted on her fingers and dried on her hands and his face and he cried. My brother reached his small hands up to his face and shook his head back and forth and pushed away from us. He wouldn't look at us or our family.

    We weren't supposed to go into my brother's room anymore or he wouldn't get any better than he was then. His whole room was sick. His body swelled up and made his cradle rock back and forth and rattle. My mother and father and sister and me all stood in the doorway to his sickroom where we could still look at him. My sister told us that we had to stop the cradle from rocking back and forth or my brother might tip over and fall and break. My sister went into my brother's sickroom and carried my brother out of there and through all the other rooms of the house that weren't sick or dying or small but we still had to go to the hospital.

    My brother was going to die. We drove him down a road that wasn't big enough to be paved yet but that had men standing next to it hammering nails into houses so other families would come and live there. We drove past the school where my sister was supposed to go with me next year but where she never did. We drove past stores and gas stations and places to eat but none of them had anything in them that would keep my brother alive.

    We drove my brother to the hospital that had the doctor and nurse that were supposed to save my brother for us. My mother told the doctor and nurse that we starved my brother but even so his fever didn't go down. The nurse fixed the table paper up and the doctor laid my brother down on it and on top of the metal table. The doctor looked inside my brother's ears and mouth and down his throat. He pulled my brother's eyelids up with his thumb but they closed up again when he let go of them. My brother squeezed his eyes down tight into wrinkles and cried. He shook his head back and forth so the doctor couldn't put anything else in his mouth and the doctor put his hands down into his pockets and he frowned.

    My brother stopped breathing anymore but his body was still hot when we touched him. My sister pulled her hand back fast and told me it burned. The nurse breathed out into my brother's mouth and pushed down on his chest with her two fingers. My brother coughed and spit and cried. My mother and father cried too. My brother reached his small hands and arms out to us and my mother picked him up and held him in our family.

    We took my brother away from the hospital alive but we didn't get very far away before my brother stopped breathing again and we took him back home. My mother carried my brother into our house but he wasn't going to live there or with us anymore. But we had to keep living even though my brother wasn't going to do it.

    We stayed inside our family and house and got ready for everybody else that was going to come over to see my brother and the way he died. My father looked out the windows and looked down into his hands. My mother sat down in chairs and touched her hair and wiped her eyes. My sister played with a doll that was supposed to make my brother alive again but it never did.

    The whole time we stayed inside there there were people that came over to our house and up to our windows and looked at us inside. They brought over food in bowls and food on plates. They knocked on the windows and knocked on the doors and they waited there. They called us by our names but we never did say anything back to them. We couldn't let any of them come inside yet.

    They left food on the windowsill and my mother would open the window far enough up to slide the food inside our house and us. They left more food outside the doors or on the porch and we would wait for them to leave before we brought the food inside to eat it. They would always look back at our house before they got into their cars and drove away from our house and our family and us. They were trying to see what we looked like and did and the way that we lived there after my brother died.

    We lived inside our house and ourselves. We did not talk to each other even though my mother would talk to herself. We got my brother and everything else in our family and house ready for everybody else to come over and inside and see it. People drove over from Sweetwater and Chico and Riverland and they parked their cars all up and down the road in front of our house and in our front yard. They drove in from Killeen and Overton and came inside our house to see my brother and us. They drove up from Tyler and Sugar Land and Old Dime Box and everybody wanted to talk about my brother and the way that we laid him down in his casket.

    This lady from Amarillo talked about the dead people that we shared in our family—my brother and her sister. This man from Hull Lake told me that we die in families so that somebody remembers us and can tell other people about it. This man from Brownland told my sister and me that neither one of us was the dead one so we shouldn't cry anymore. This lady from Kossetown told us that we can't get away from our family or dying but that my mother and father would get another brother for us.

    But everybody also stopped talking to us and looking at my brother and they all left my brother and us and our family and house. My father told us that my brother gone was enough for the rest of us to gather ourselves and our stuff up and leave that place too. We couldn't stay in our house or Mineola anymore. My brother was dead and we couldn't live there either.

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Table of Contents

The Whole Way We Got There 1
Living Anymore in Mineola 7
My Doll-Family, My People-Family, the Sun Outside,
My Little Brother's Insides, the Big-People, and How
They Could Have Made Me Another One of My Little Brother 11
Our House in Mineola 15
The Baby-Sized Hole Inside the Ground and Dirt-World
and the Toy Box with My Little Brother Inside It 17
Mineola to Birthrock 21
Our House-Car, Bompa's House, Going to Heaven,
and When We Could Start Living Again 25
Birthrock to Stringtown 27
Some More Ways Dolls Keep People Alive,
the Way You Go Away from Doll to People and Bigger,
and the Big-People We Were Going to Grow Up
into and Live Them 29
Stringtown to Albion 33
My Doll-Me, My People-Me, and the Way My
Doll-Family Got Away 35
Albion to Hot Springs 39
How to Cut Dolls andPeople Out of Paper, Crayon-Faces,
the String that Holds People Together, Holding Hands Together,
and One More Way Any Family Can Break 43
Hot Springs to North Little Rock 47
House-Cars, Car-People, the Safety-Bars that Saved Me
and My Bigger Brother, Some More Ways We Got Some of
Everything Back, and Why Everybody Needs to Stop and
Rest or They Will Break 49
North Little Rock to Campbell Station 55
How You Get the Breath All the Way Down into Momma
and the Baby Alive, How Poppa Laid the Babies Down to Sleep
and Grow Up Inside Momma, and Why We Kept Waking Each Other Up
Campbell Station to Biggerton
How to Make a Doll-Baby Out of String, Baby Clothes, Shoe Parts,
Buttons, Stones, Balloons, a Hat, Glue, Crayons, a Needle
and Thread, and Two People Too 61
Biggerton to Glenallen 65
How to Make a Baby Up, How to Make Me Up into a Momma,
and How Many People Any People-Family Needs
to Have Living Inside It 67
Glenallen to Anna 71
Looking, Looking-Pictures, the People Inside Momma,
the Shape of the Baby, and Looking Inside
Momma's Stomach and Hole 73
Anna to Henderson 75
One of the Holes that Goes Down into the Ground and Dirt-World
and Away to My Little Brother, the Other Momma and Poppa that
Climbed Us Up and Up Out of the Hole, and How Our Momma and
Poppa Kept Us Inside Our Family 77
Henderson to Hendricksville 81
My Little Brother and His Breath Inside the Toy Box,
How We Played with the Doll and People of My Little
Brother, and How Alive You Have to Be to Go Away 85
Hendricksville to Bennetts Switch 91
How Nobody Should Ever Wear Sun-Dresses Up to Too Hot,
How Everybody Tried to Burn Me Up Inside One,
and How You Make a Sun-Dress Out of the Sun Anyway 93
Bennetts Switch to Frederick Perrytown 97
The Doll-Family Inside the Toy Box and How Anything Bad
You Say to Them Goes Away from You to Them So You Can Go
Away to Somewhere Else Better Than Where Everybody Else
Is Dead 99
Frederick Perrytown to Edwardsburg 103
How Momma Played Dead, the Shirt-Baby Poppa Carried,
the Angels Inside the Clouded-House on Top of the Hot-Hill,
and How Everybody Else Was Waiting for Us in Heaven 105
Edwardsburg to Sunfield 113
The House with Counting-Doors, the Man that Knew How
Many People Were Alive, Box-Rooms, More Holes,
the Lady with the Rolling Trash Cans, and Why
Everybody Has to Get Up and Live 115
Sunfield to Far Town 119
The People-Family that Had a Living-Baby Living with Them
and the Way We Got Away with a New Baby of My Little
Brother 123
Far Town to Morrison 127
How the New Baby of My Little Brother Started to Die Too
and How We Gave Him Away to the Baby-Angel at the Hot-Hill 129
Morrison to Gaylord 133
How We Burned My Little Brother Up, How We Turned My Little
Brother into See-Through Dirt, and How We Buried My
Little Brother Inside a See-Through Jar and Farther Down into
the Ground and Dirt-World 135
Bompa's House in Gaylord 139
Why We Were Dead and Where Dead People and
My Little Brother Go Away to Inside You 143
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2000

    The Same Way We Will All Get Away

    Man, oh, man; I really loved this book. I picked it up because I liked the cover and then I didn't put it down until I was done. Really. Every sentence in it is like no other sentence outside it. I never have written one of these reviews before but this thing broke my heart, and, somehow, also, moved me to action. I want everyone to read it. Anyone who ever rode in a car, anyone who ever had a mother or a father, anyone who lived in a house, anyone anyone, anyone who ever suspected that America was sad and beautiful through and through, will love it. I think. Maybe not everyone, though, now that I think of it. It is a difficult book, in terms of its grammar and content. It isn't for the weak or the simple. Read it or don't, I guess. I think if you don't, though, if people don't, that that will be to

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2000

    A Powerful and Original Novel

    Kimball has a unique way of giving us the voices of grieving children so that we end up grieving for them, too. I think this is an outstanding, heart wrenching novel. Now I want all my friends to read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2000

    Kimball is King

    This book is a tremendous thing. I've been reading and re-reading it, living in Kimball's sentences. Once you are done reading this book, you will 'go alive,' as one of Kimball's child narrators would say, and you will never look at the simple things that make up the world the same way again.

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