Tumbledown: A Novel

Overview

Robert Boswell’s first novel since Century’s Son showcases once again his “dazzling technical skill, intelligence and moral seriousness” (The New York Times Book Review)

*A Library Journal "Best Indie Fiction of 2013" *

At age thirty-three, James Candler seems to be well on the road to success. He’s in line for a big promotion at Onyx Springs, the treatment facility where he’s a therapist. He has a fiancée, a sizable house, and a Porsche.

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Tumbledown: A Novel

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Overview

Robert Boswell’s first novel since Century’s Son showcases once again his “dazzling technical skill, intelligence and moral seriousness” (The New York Times Book Review)

*A Library Journal "Best Indie Fiction of 2013" *

At age thirty-three, James Candler seems to be well on the road to success. He’s in line for a big promotion at Onyx Springs, the treatment facility where he’s a therapist. He has a fiancée, a sizable house, and a Porsche.

     But . . . he’s falling in love with another woman, he’s underwater on his mortgage, and he’s put his hapless best friend in charge of his signature therapeutic program. Even the GPS on his car can’t seem to predict where he should turn next. And his clients are struggling in their own hilarious, heartbreaking ways to keep their lives on track. How can he help them if he can’t help himself?

     In Tumbledown, Robert Boswell presents a large, unforgettable cast of characters who are all failing and succeeding in various degrees to make sense of our often-irrational world. In a moving narrative twist, he boldly reckons with the extent to which tragedy can be undone, the impossible accommodated.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Lisa Zeidner
…the most refreshingly old-fashioned kind of narrative: one that evokes deep sympathy for all its characters. Boswell's anatomy of melancholy introduces us to a large cast of misfits trying to cope with their "tumbledown way of living" while warning that the sanity of the putatively normal people around them could evaporate at any minute…Tumbledown neither demonizes mental illness nor glorifies it as a purer, more creative state. All the novel's characters know that in adulthood they're supposed to settle for "what could pass for a normal life. Maybe it was a C- sort of life, but that was a passing grade." Still, they want to keep hope, wonder and love in their lives, as well as, Boswell suggests, "some manner of accommodating the impossible, some way of covering up for the failures of the rational world. This might actually be a reasonable definition of sanity." Without a whiff of sentimentality, he shows exactly how elusive such balance can be.
Publishers Weekly
This is a crowded, tender, and captivating novel, the experience of which brings to the fore how reading itself can replenish our love of the imperfect beauty of humanity. Boswell (The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards) spins an elaborate web of characters, and once the initial effort of keeping them straight subsides, the reward of knowing them is especially rich. Therapist James Candler works with young adults of various psychological diagnoses and mental limitations while struggling with his own life. Yet it is the constellation of people around him that makes the book’s development so fascinating. When Lise was a client of James’s, she was a stripper. Unbeknownst to James, when he moves to San Diego, Lise follows, reinventing herself with him in sight and hoping for love. Lise and James do eventually find something magnetic, though it’s limited to the two weeks before James’s fiancée will arrive, an urgency that increases the novel’s pace. As James’s clients try to keep their own hearts in check and James’s indecision mounts, Boswell brilliantly cuts back to childhood and the revelation that James had an autistic big brother named Pook. These slow and precise memories hold everything else together, emphasizing the profound affection we can feel for even the most unreachable. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, InkWell Management. (Aug.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Tumbledown:

"A winning ensemble cast of therapists and patients make stabs at sanity in Robert Boswell’s mordantly funny novel Tumbledown.” —Vanity Fair

"Boswell can write the most refreshingly old-fashioned kind of narrative: one that evokes deep sympathy for all its characters. . . . All the novel's characters know that in adulthood they're supposed to settle for what could pass for a normal life. Maybe it was a C- sort of life, but that was a passing grade. Still, they want to keep hope, wonder and love in their lives. . . . Without a whiff of sentimentality, he shows exactly how elusive such balance can be." —The New York Times Book Review

"A deft twining of irony and insight on nearly every page. . . . Tumbledown wryly mines the heartache in emotional disturbances, some present from birth and the rest brought on by the business of living." —The New York Times

"A complicated, nuanced look at human experience and the insights into that experience contributed by people of varying kinds of intelligence. Oh, it’s funny, too. . . . What most enlivens Tumbledown is the moving inner life that Boswell imagines for his mentally disabled characters. " —The Washington Post

"[Tumbledown] blossoms in surprising ways. . . . It's hilarious, sad, messy, and often unintentionally insightful. Boswell manages to treat each of his lost souls—even the most shabby, offensive, and insane among them—with affection and understanding. . . .He's writing excellent books about the complexities, frailties, and triumphs of human relationships in the modern age." —The Daily Beast

"When most of us think of today's great American novel, we think of Franzen's Freedom or Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad—sprawling stories that comment on contemporary society as we live it. Tumbledown, Robert Boswell's latest, is just such a book—and one you'll stay up until 3 a.m. reading. . . . Boswell is a writer who can see the humanity, and yes, even beauty, in just about anything." —Oprah. com, "Book of the Week"

"Like a funnier One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, this story focuses on a therapist and his wild yet well-meaning patients, bumbling through life, trying to make sense of the world and one another." —O: The Oprah Magazine, "Ten Books to Pick Up Now" 

"A moving and often darkly hilarious meditation on sanity." —Houston Chronicle

"[An] intriguing new book. Boswell creates memorable characters with a few well-chosen lines." —Dallas Morning News

"[Tumbledown] shines a searing spotlight on the human condition. . . [It] is bursting with life. . . . Tumbledown is a welcome return from a grossly overlooked and underrated novelist." —Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"With a big heart and a perceptive eye for the layers of wisdom behind the surface kinks of madness, Boswell stands solidly in the literary tradition that brings us understanding through those who don't quite understand." —Shelf Awareness

"[Tumbledown] is a successful complication of a book: light and dark, difficult and easy, a profound soap opera. . . . From each character's idiosyncrasies, a bustling and believable world emerges." —St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Dive into Boswell's novel of love affairs, messy friendships, family tragedies, human frailty, and things we don't understand about ourselves. It can make you see the world in a whole new way." —Bustle

"Within a suspenseful plot spiked with love triangles and flashbacks, Boswell renders each complex psyche and scene with magnificent precision and penetrating vision, fine-tuning our definitions of disorder and healing and deepening our perception of what it is to be normal, what it is to be human." —Booklist, starred review

"This is a crowded, tender, and captivating novel, the experience of which brings to the fore how reading itself can replenish our love of the imperfect beauty of humanity." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[An] absorbing tale of modern chaos steeped in moral issues." —Library Journal

"Boswell displays immense talent for characterization and observation . . . An impressive work." —Kirkus Reviews

"If you read Tumbledown in public, beware: Boswell's story is barkingly, snort-spurtingly, people-give-you-looks funny. Yet its humor is the most generous kind, uncynical and unsentimental, and woven through an ensemble story so large-hearted it keeps bursting its narrative seams. The result is a brilliant, humane, engrossing argument for how infinitely whacked and contingent life can be, and therefore how desperately we need one another to survive. I finished it with a long contented sigh, thinking, this is why I love reading novels." —David Wroblewski, author of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

"Robert Boswell has always been an extremely appealing writer: uncommonly intuitive, a sparkling observer, graceful yet surprising sentence-to-sentence; and always in pursuit of important complexity in human behavior—a rare gift, which makes his writing increasingly essential." —Richard Ford

Library Journal
Set at a California counseling center and sheltered workshop, this story focuses on the emotionally disrupted lives of its large set of characters. Candler is a counselor in line for the center's directorship but isn't sure he wants the responsibility or even knows who he really is. Lise is a former patient of Candler's, whose life was changed through a single counseling session and who believes she is in love with him. Highly intelligent and acutely troubled adolescent Maura is in love with teenage Mick, a schizophrenic struggling to get back to the life he knew before his illness. Toward the end of this brimming novel, Candler is reading an epic of "survival after the world has fallen apart…, a lively messy book, full of characters," which is also an apt description of the novel in hand. VERDICT Recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a PEN West Award for Fiction, Boswell (The Century's Son) crafts a compassionate, compelling, and ultimately affirming tale of "tumbledown" lives—the human struggle to find "some manner of accommodating the impossible." Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 2/4/13.]—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA
Kirkus Reviews
A book that reminds readers that the wages of sin are myriad and include the opportunity to find oneself. James Candler knows better. A counselor at the Onyx Springs Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Center, he seems poised to become the center's youngest director. He has a colorful cast of clients, a fiancee about to arrive from London--he proposed via text message--an expensive car he doesn't respect himself for buying, a drafty stucco McMansion in a bedroom--read bedlam--community, and a roommate, his oldest and best friend Billy Atlas, who can barely get himself out of bed much less hold up the world. The engaged Candler hooks up with a woman he does not realize is his stalker. She, like everyone in the book, is the benevolent avatar of an evil type. Though bad things happen, and Boswell conjures menace with ease, the conclusion of the story will frustrate or please, depending upon your feelings about literary conceits; conceits Boswell handles masterfully. Boswell displays immense talent for characterization and observation, the narrator moving seamlessly among more than a dozen named characters, all with some connection to the haunted and impulsive Candler. Time is elastic, the fate of one character suspended while Boswell moves his attention back to follow a different character through the same few days, hours or minutes. Boswell makes only one misstep in a novel that seems guaranteed to deliver pleasure: Karly Hopper, a client at the rehab center, is drop-dead gorgeous and developmentally disabled, but only enough to make her laugh at everything and flirt with everyone. She's less a character than a waking wet dream, and her redemption--and whom she redeems--is too pat. Boswell (The Heyday of Insensitive Bastards, 2009, etc.), recipient of two NEA Fellowships, a Guggenheim Fellowship and a PEN West Award for Fiction, shares the Cullen Chair in Creative Writing at the University of Houston with his wife, writer Antonya Nelson. An impressive work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976491
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 8/6/2013
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 469,602
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.31 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Boswell

Robert Boswell’s previous books include The Heyday of the Insensitive Bastards and Mystery Ride. He teaches creative writing at the University of Houston and in the Warren Wilson College MFA program.

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