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
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: NubianCircleClub@aol.com.