Nubian Circle Book Club

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The Ecstatic Book Review

Phyllis Rhodes

DARK and Depressing!!

Victor Lavalle's The Ecstatic left me feeling ambivalent.  I found the novel to be well written, original, and crafty; but at times I also felt lost and confused.  Perhaps the latter is intentional since the story is narrated by Anthony Jones, an obese schizophrenic, who lives with his equally schizophrenic relatives. Anthony is rapidly deteriorating and although he seems relatively in control at the beginning of the novel, it is quite clear that he has lost all of his mental faculties at the end.

The book is divided into three sections. In "The Whale" segment, Lavelle opens with Anthonys younger sister, mother, and grandmother rescuing him from Cornell University. He has not attended classes in a couple of years, is living in squalor, and has supported himself with menial jobs. He returns home to live in the basement and reacquaint himself with the old neighborhood. It is in this section that we learn about Anthony's atrocious eating habits, his mother's mental disorder, and his family's relationship with the neighbors. He tries to reinsert himself into society by losing weight, dating, and getting a job. Sadly, he is exploited by his employers and neighborhood thugs, fails at weight loss, and is jilted by his love interest. In the "Miss Innocence" segment, a family road trip to the sisters beauty pageant goes awry, largely due to Anthony's worsening condition. They meet a few questionable characters along the way that seem equally insane as the Jones clan. The last segment, "The Hounds", is Anthony's final descent into dementia where he becomes a danger to himself and others. He is literally trapped physically in his neighborhood by the patrolling dogs and mentally in his weakened mind.

At most, The Ecstatic is entertaining. As mentioned earlier, Lavalle lost me on a few twists and turns, but I continued reading to see how it would end. I think the pacing of the story was solid, but character development was somewhat lacking. Anthony's character was the most developed and that is putting it mildly; the other characters were lightly sketched and void of any real definition. There were plenty of dark comedic episodes sprinkled throughout that caused me to laugh aloud, but more importantly, I felt pity for the central character as he surrendered to his illness. I would not recommend this novel to everyone, only those who are curious and courageous enough to venture down a dark and disheartening literary side street.

The Nubian Circle Book Club rating for The Ecstatic is 3 out of 5 stars. We welcome your comments and thoughts about this book review.  Please e-mail us at: