Celeste, at a less-than-tender age, finds herself engaged, living in a penthouse apartment, and jetting off on exotic trips. But after her initial rapture with Alex, Celeste discovers that he's not perfect, and she's not perfect. Alex makes her angry, he often seems to care more about his job than her, and he's prone to bouts of rage. And Celeste is drinking too much.
As Celeste begins to question her relationship and herself, she is haunted by painful memories of her past in well-mannered, blue-blood Connecticut. The people she loved most have all vanishedher beautiful French mother, who died young; her high school best friend, Sally, who suffered from severe depression; her first love, Nathan, who developed an insatiable case of wanderlust. Even in adulthood, Celeste's closest friends seem to abandon her, and she still, ten years later, cannot let go of her lingering passion for Nathan, who is the opposite of Alex in every way.
Celeste comes to realize that her life is full of lies, and that she must take responsibility for the choices she has made. In a bold refusal to compromise, she challenges her fiance, her family, and the very society in which she's steeped.
Kaylie Jones is the author of A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, which is loosely based on her experiences growing up in an expatriate artistic home as the daughter of famed novelist James Jones. The novel was made into a Merchant Ivory film starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Hershey. Jones currently teaches poetry and fiction in the New York City public schools, where she is a writer in residence, and fiction at Long Island University's Southampton campus, where shecofounded the MFA program. Jones lives with her husband and daughter in Manhattan.
About the Author
Kaylie Jones is the author of Celeste Ascending, As Soon as It Rains, and A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, which was made into a film starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Hershey.
Read an Excerpt
I had a friend in high school named Sally Newlyn who explained what had gone wrong with God's plan for the world. During one of her schizophrenic episodes, she told me that God had given mankind a finite number of souls. He set them free in the sky where they orbited silently until they were needed for the newly conceived. He intended for the souls to be reincarnated so that humanity would grow more generous and wise with each generation. But God had underestimated man's propensity to go forth and multiply, and so, on our planet today, millions of bodies were roaming the earth searching in vain for a soul.
We were sitting cross-legged in an abandoned shed we'd discovered in the woods, passing back and forth a thermos of rum and Coke. I listened to her with rapt attention, because she often spoke important truths when she stopped taking her medication. Salty's eyes were on fire, and I reached out and felt her pale forehead, but it was cool to the touch.
"That's what's wrong with me, Celeste," she said close to my ear in her small, urgent voice as tears fell from her eyes. I didn't get a soul."
"Oh, Sally," I said, pulling her into my arms and holding her tightly, as if that could keep her demons away.
When I was a sophomore in college, she killed herself.
I learned of Sally's suicide on a December morning when an old friend called me on the hall phone in the dormitory. Afterwards, I sat alone for a long time in the communal kitchen, listening to the midweek silence. I tried to get on with the day but I couldn't move. I remembered what Sally had told me several years before about God's plan, and I could not shake thethought from my mind.
I began to look into people's faces, searching their eyes for a glimmer of their souls. It became a compulsion; I pictured the inside of their heads as a room-something like the set in Beckett's Endgamewith no doors, only two windows looking out onto the world. If I could furnish the room, or at least see the view from the windows, a little corner of their soul was revealed.
I remembered Sally's eyes, and in them I could still see a warm and sunny greenhouse crowded with rare and rich-smelling plants, fragile and in constant need of care. But as she grew ill, the light in her eyes slowly dimmed, and in the greenhouse of my memory the plants shriveled up and died.
I lost my mother when I was ten, and although I remembered her well, I could not recall the event with any certainty. Trying to spare me pain, my father had filled my child's mind with reassuring stories that tenaciously lodged themselves in my imagination, leaving little room for the truth. In my mother's eyes I imagined an exotic French boudoir, with a mauve chaise longue, silk tapestries of naked demoiselles covering the windows, risque lingerie peeking out from a closet, old clothbound books strewn everywhere, and in a corner, a bar for the many guests she might have had in real life, but never did.
At twenty-eight, I found myself in a small, dark apartment in New York City, quite alone. Having lost almost every person who had ever meant anything to me, I confronted my own soul-room for the first time. In mirrors, my blank eyes stared back at me. The walls and floor were bare. The windows looked out onto a dirty airshaft, a brick wall.
And then I met Alex, at a Fourth of July party on a chartered yacht, the way people meet in movies.
During the past six months, I had managed to get to my teaching job at Columbia University; to the public school in Harlem where I taught creative writing to eighth graders; and to the Korean deli: familiar places and preplanned destinations.
When summer finally came and I was relieved of my teaching obligations, I locked myself in my apartment, and began putting together my first collection of short stories.
Sometimes, in the evening, I went down the hall to visit my neighbor Lucia. She was in the throes of a love affair with a rock and roll roadie called Soarin' Sammy. Lucia had met him on the set of one of her music videos.
They had never been outside of her apartment together. It had been going onoff and on, but mostly onfor over three years. I always knew when he was visiting because she would stop answering her phone, and the music would start pounding so that her door would hum with the vibration.
For long stretches there would be no mention of him, then she would begin to expect him again. "Soarin' Sammy should be coming by," she'd say in her heavy voice.
That summer we holed up, waiting for a storm to pass, like two commuters who'd forgotten their umbrellas. We watched old movies on her VCR and drank wine or brandy into the late hours. Around the corner there was a bar I liked, a small, dark place. Sitting in there one night, after we'd both had a number of cognacs, she made me promise I'd accompany her to this upcoming Fourth of July party. The Slimbrand company had rented a private yacht that sailed around lower Manhattan. Lucia who had produced several commercials for them, had received a gilded invitation in the mail. It was a black tie affair. Last year, she told me, there had been music and film stars, a Top Forty band, and rivers of champagne.
I promised, and forgot about it. But on July...
What People are Saying About This
Celeste's journey is irresistable and involving from the first page. She is both familiar and exceptionally brave - and the grandmother is magnifiqué!
Alice Elliott, author of In The Gloaming
Celeste Ascending teaches us all the importance of telling ourselves the truth if we're ever to find our souls. In Celeste's journey to come to terms with her family, her men, her drinking, and her life, she shows us the perils of self deception and the rewards of bravery that start her on the road to herself. I was cheering for her all the way.
Barbara Esstman, author of Night Ride Home
Kaylie Jones' novels are a pure joy to read, and Celeste Ascending is splendid! (Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump)
Kaylie Jones poetically, vividly, and skillfully creates a bell jar of a stifling rich world in a complicated heroine who smashes her way out. Jones is knowing about life, love, and the search for one's identity. She certainly has found her own.
Barabara Goldsmith, author of Other Powers
RobinCeleste Ascending is a luminous portrait of a young woman confronted by contradictions: the chasm between longing and contentment, the material sickness of American culture versus the ascetic life of the artist, and the hard fought scramble toward grace that necesitates facing the biggest contradiction of all, who we are and were versus who we are becoming and want to be.
Robin Hemley, author of The Last Studebaker
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
She writes gorgeous prose and is fearless in her approach. The title is beautiful, and the novel lifts it higher.
It's been a long time since I got so caught up in a book that I finished it in one day, but that's exactly what happened when I started the novel, CELESTE ASCENDING, by Kaylie Jones. It's a work of fiction, yet once again, Jones creates characters with such complexity that their humanity cannot be denied. There were times when I didn't know whether to root for Celeste or shake some sense into her (actually both would have been satisfying), but ultimately, thanks to Jones's talent for revealing the psychology of a character, I understood her. As Jones unearths the reasons for the guilt and grief that drive Celeste's unhealthy behavior (her alcoholism) and cause her to make questionable choices (her fiancé Alex, for example), we see the possibility that lies inside her and hope she will too. A side note, as a teacher, I found the scenes where Celeste teaches writing to inner-city kids to be inspiring without being sentimental. And the opening scene where Celeste's friend Sally explains her theory about who gets a soul is not to be missed. CELESTE ASCENDING is another amazing read from an author whose crisp writing keeps me coming back for more.
This is my favorite novel. I loved every minute of this wonderful read. I just couldn't put it down. I loved the style of kaylie Jones. She is a wonderful author. This book pulled me in from the first sentence. I was satisfied with the conclusion which I thought brought an appropriate end to this gripping saga of a young womens trials and errors. I would recomend this to anyone willing to read about a young womens quest to find herself in these troubled times...
A stunning follow-up to A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries! Kaylie Jones is one of the top young authors in America. If you only read one book this Fall, make it Celeste.
CELESTE ASCENDING is the best book I've read by a living author in a long, long time. I'm a graduate student in literature and writing and therefore spend ALL my time reading, so I inevitably judge even pleasure reading quite harshly. THIS BOOK ROCKED MY WORLD! The plot, characterization, language and dialogue are perfectly balanced and instantly mesmerizing. I could not put the book down and a feeling of despair washed over me when I finished it, for I didn't want to leave the stunningly beautiful world created by the author. Every writer should strive to achieve what Kaylie Jones so flawlessly demonstrates in CELESTE ASCENDING, and anyone who appreciates fantastic, intelligent and heartbreakingly-good literature should buy, and read, this book.
Kaylie Jones has written a work of lyric fiction that has the sound of a poem, but packs a gritty punch. Ms Jones is not afraid to put a realistic face on alcoholism or abusive relationships. Her character Celeste is incredibly endearing and elusive. Readers will find themselves turning pages quickly to find out what she will do next and hoping that she comes out on the right side. Celeste is alive on the page, and that is high praise indeed for Kaylie Jones. This is a winner, I recommend this book to anyone interested in complex characters and intelligent fiction.