The Illumination
Kevin Brockmeier
Jason loves Patricia; Patricia loves Jason. Each morning he posts a point-of-love on the refrigerator door for her.

    I love the way chocolate makes your eyes light up.
    I love the concavities behind your knees, as soft as the skin of a peach.
    I love how easily you cry when you're happy.
    I love the 'bloop' sound you make whenever you drop something.

She collects these mots into a book. But the two of them are in a wreck. He barely survives. She doesn't. Just before she leaves this vale, she offers her love-book to Carol Ann Page, her roommate in the hospital. Carol Ann spirits it away, but then Jason tracks her (and it) down.

Before long, it is stolen by Chuck, a "retard." He gives it to Ryan who passes out tracts door-to-door. It ends up with Nina Poggione, a writer with mouth ulcers ...mouth ulcers. She gives it --- the book, not the ulcers --- to Morse, who adores her writing, and, ultimately, her.

It's a funny sequence to build a novel on. Sometimes Brockmeier brings it off, sometimes he doesn't. The early chapters seduce the reader: Carol Ann and her somewhat empty life; her ex-husband who sends her alimony checks in such ways to bedevil her: a box with dozens of straws, one of which carries her payment.

Then there is Jason and his grief over the loss of Patricia. After they revive him in the hospital, he was

    resurrected into what? His life had become unfamiliar to him, cold and disquieting. He felt as if time as he know it had flickered to a close. The world had ended. The oceans had climbed their shores, the buildings had burst out of their windows, and all the old meanings had fallen away. It turned out that the world at the end of time was just like the world at the beginning.

The title suggests that this one is about enlightenment, lights that flicker here and there being a physical manifestation of pain. Our body pains show with an eerie light. "The diabetes patients with ulcerated feet. The arthritis sufferers with swollen joints. All of them were illuminated with the telltale signs of their infirmities.

    "Sorry about your heart," Ryan wanted to say, or, "Sorry about your legs," but he was still getting used to the etiquette of the situation. Was it discourteous to admit that you could see a person's sickness playing out on the surface of his body?

A universe filled with illuminated pain,. No more secret anguish. "No, it doesn't hurt much," you might want to say, but we can see from the white light streaming from your joints that it is killing you. People crashing in cars, getting beaten up, their bodies socked with fistulas and cancers and encrustations and chancres and old wounds.

"From the doors of shops and art galleries came strange floating candles of heart pain and arthritis. Stray muscle cramps spilled across the sidewalk like sparks scattering from a bonfire."

    Neural diseases fluttered in the air like leaves falling through a shaft of light A great fanning network of leukemia rose out of a taxi and drifted incandescently into an office building, and he watched as it vanished into the bricks, a shining angel of cancer.

Despite the singularity of this enlightening revelation, the real successes of The Illumination come in the early adventures of Patricia, Carol Ann, and most of all, the evolution of the formerly retiring Jason, He falls in with some juveniles. One, Melissa, turns up at his house and moves in, so he works out a deal with her: she can stay until she leaves for college, she will "teach him how to manipulate his body, inflicting those small, perfect impairments that rid him of his entire history." What? Pain, self-inflicted pain.

God knows where Brockmeier came up with this stuff, but it certainly is a doozy, a how-to-do it on slashing, burning and cutting. For those of us who have never done any industrial-strength body ruination, it has a certain touch of integrity. "She removed his shoe and his sock, crossing his big toe over his second to bring on a foot cramp. She gave him a pocket knife and coaxed him into making a series of cuts of his body, beginning with the least sensitive areas and progressing to the most:"

    First the elbow, then the shoulder, then the back of the hand, the chest, the inner curve of the thigh.

She offered him instructions on his technique: "Next time you don't want to go so deep. FYI, once you pass the first like millimeter, it doesn't hurt any more, it just does more damage. In fact, it hurts less, because the shock mechanism kicks in. At least that's been my experience."

    Now, if we're talking about matches or cigarettes, that's something else altogether. Burn pain and cut pain are two totally different things.
--- Lolita Lark
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