Act of God: A Novel Hardcover – Mar 3 2015
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Praise for Jill Ciment’s
ACT OF GOD
“A gem of a book that ultimately focuses on the best parts about the human race. I kind of love it for that.”
-My Bookish Ways
“Funny, scary . . . It’s human behavior that interests Ciment, and that runs the gamut from enjoyably ridiculous to surprisingly sublime in her tragicomedy of errors.”
-Wendy Smith, The Daily Beast
“Ciment’s book is a compact, droll farce, light-hearted and pleasurable as a chocolate truffle, yet with a nugget of hard, somewhat unpalatable truths in the center . . . Ultimately, Ciment towers forth with her own brilliant voice . . . Her interweaving plotlines are so nimbly handled that every development seems simultaneously unpredictable, yet organically predetermined. The story might sometimes appear to be a massive clockwork, but it has the astonishing intricacy of the finest Old World municipal tower clock, where astonishing figures pirouette in and out of every niche . . . Ciment has the bracing mindset of Ambrose Bierce or Mark Twain, George Alec Effinger or Tom Disch.”
-Paul di Fillipo, Locus Magazine
“This short novel deepens into a darker, Job-like comedy.”
-Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Ciment’s nightmare-comedy reads like an urbane spin on the Book of Job, written in the wake of Superstorm Sandy . . . An antic yet poignant study of who you become when you lose everything . . . Lively secondary characters add to the book’s zest . . . Ciment’s sense of absurdity is keen . . . Laugh-out-loud funny in its first half, the book grows more thorny and trenchant in its wit toward the end. Either way, from start to finish, it’s invigoratingly unpredictable.”
-Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times
“Remarkable . . . a novel that is as surprising and moving as nature itself . . . ‘Act of God’ is a work to be treasured, respected and, most of all, enjoyed — like life itself.”
-Laura Farmer, Cedar Rapids Gazette
“Rich, quirky characterizations, witty insights into human nature and cruel twists of fate turn the initial absurdity of the narrative into a profound, suspenseful story . . . thoroughly entertaining and unforgettable.”
-Kathleen Gerard, Shelf Awareness (Starred Review)
“A darkly comic jewel of a novel . . . ACT OF GOD is an act of love, one that is no less funny or endearing for the toughness with which it is bestowed.”
-Jan Stuart, Boston Globe
“This novel breezes along, fizzing with wit as it sails . . . Ms. Ciment’s interestingly quirky — but not cute — characters suggest human buoyancy, while her deft sentences and cleverly chosen details set a bracing pace that keeps the full force of the novel’s questions about responsibility and forgiveness in check until the last page is turned. Then readers may look back and consider what we might really mean by an act of God.”
-Claire Hopley, Washington Times
“In this swiftly paced, niftily written comedy turned horror novel, even the most settled lives are upended, the tiniest character flaws come back to bite, and love and redemption arrive when you least expect them.”
-Amanda Lovell, More
“Keenly intelligent . . . Ciment orchestrates an increasingly complicated plot with consummate skill . . . In fewer than 200 pages, Ciment has pulled off an admirable literary feat, creating a novel that moves at the speed of light, all the while urging us to pause and look inward.”
-Harvey Freedenberg, BookPage
“Beautiful, tightly controlled, and fascinating . . . Both the plotting and writing are very strong, and the moody, slow-burn fascination of the story makes this one a winner.”
“In a feat of literary magic, Ciment slips an abundance of suspenseful action, incisive humor, far-ranging wisdom, and complex emotion into this inventive, caring, devour-all-at-once novel of self, family, community, and doing right.”
“Humanity, warmth and wry humor light up Ciment's noirish novel . . . This absorbing novel about a luminescent fungus affixes itself to your psyche like a spore and quickly spreads to your heart, setting everything in its wake aglow.”
-Kirkus (Starred Review)
About the Author
JILL CIMENT was born in Montreal, Canada. She is the author of Small Claims, a collection of short stories and novellas; the novels The Law of Falling Bodies, Teeth of the Dog, The Tattoo Artist, and Heroic Measures; and a memoir, Half a Life. She has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, among them a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, two New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships, the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, and a Guggenheim fellowship. Ciment is a professor at the University of Florida. She lives in Gainesville, Florida, and Brooklyn, New York.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I ordered the book to review because I am a fan of post-apocalyptic fiction, and the blurb describing the book made me think this was going to be a PA book. The first page or two did not dispel that illusion, from the very first sentence ("The twins suspected it was alive, but they weren't exactly sure if it was plant or animal") to later lurid descriptions of thumb-sized phosphorescent protrusions blooming before their eyes and spreading spores. But those were the most sensationalist pages of the book, and the rest of the chapters focus almost not at all on the mold invasion. What we get instead is a captivating look at how a handful of diverse characters (a set of 64 year old twin sisters; a Russian au pair you most definitely would not want looking after your children; an actress whose early glory days have devolved to starring in sexual dysfunction commercials) face being uprooted and losing their earthly possessions. One of the most gratifying aspects of the novel is witnessing the evolution in the characters, some of whom start out as shallow, pretentious, or deceptive but who end up experiencing real personal growth as a result of their challenges.
There are some puzzling aspects to the book: It's not obvious why the government takes the drastic steps it did so quickly, for example; and the supermold itself doesn't seem plausible. That, along with the disconnect between the first few horror-story pages and the rest of the plot, was enough for me to lower my rating a star. But it is still an enjoyable novel worth reading. Earlier I said the book was not the screwball comedy claimed on the back. That doesn't mean it is without humor, however, as there are plenty of light moments to lift the bleak mood. I particularly enjoyed the description of Gladys, displaced cat lady, and her adventures living in a van with her 17 cats. But I would classify it as dark humor, not screwball comedy. The book is a quick read (some 180 pages) and quite entertaining. And by the time you're done reading it, you've realized some important lessons about what the truly valuable things in life are. (Hint: it's not your house or your possessions.)
In ways, Act of God has a lot in common with Heroic Measures. In each, New Yorkers become panicked due to an outside danger (a gasoline tanker truck that become stuck in the Midtown Tunnel in Heroic Measures, a toxic phosphorescent mushroom infestation in Act of God). Both books also contain shifting points of views and characters who are striving to make sense of the craziness that has suddenly taken over their lives. These quirky, eccentric characters - a hallmark of Jill Ciment's - vaguely call to mind Anne Tyler's loveable protagonists.
This book opens with twins Edith and Kat, two women in their mid-60s who are rooming in the Victorian home of their landlady, Vida Cebu, a would-be Shakespearean actress who has become notorious for her role in a female libido drug commercial. To add to the chaos, a young morality-challenged Russian girl is flopping in Vida's guest bedroom without her knowledge. When the mushroom is discovered, HAZMAT is called and all their lives are thrown into complete upheaval.
As each of them muddles their way through, themes begin to emerge. In Vida's case, "She felt oddly free, as if she'd escaped. Had the house been that much of a responsibility? Why didn't she feel worse?" And in another snapshot, one of the twins is trying hard to salvage the letters of her deceased mother, a one-time grande dame of advice columnists. Gradually, the twists of their lives echo the plaintive cries of the old letters, "Will I find love again? Why did she lie to me? Am I lovable?"
The slim novel raises some big questions: Who deserves forgiveness? When do we take responsibility and when do we blithely proclaim that a natural tragedy is an "act of God?" How do we build a sense of community at a time when we feel all alone? The book is compelling and page-turning - I read it in one sitting. But I couldn't help but feel as if Jill Ciment was recycling some of the themes of her previous novel. Still, I can think of far worse ways to spend a few hours than in the company of these flawed but wonderful characters.
This is such a perfectly delightful beginning to this remarkable and lovely little literary book. And you learn all of that on the first page! This author makes the best out of every word and page.
It's a book that captivated my heart and mind for the short few hours it took me to finish it. Most of all, I loved the four main characters, all female: Edith, the conservative, organized, responsible, legal librarian; Kat, Edith's identical twin sister and every bit Edith's opposite in looks, personality, and temperament; Vida, the two sisters' beautiful but egocentric landlady--a woman made famous by her seductive role in a commercial for the world's first female sexual enhancement pill; and Ashley (a.k.a. Anushka Sokolov), an eighteen-year-old former nanny and now homeless Russian immigrant--a girl who has been living in secret in Vida's guest room closet for over a week by the time the book begins.
The book delighted me with this madcap cast of eccentric, vulnerable, but also somewhat far-fetched set of characters. I'm sure for most of us, they represent some of the very recognizable "difficult people" who we all have had to deal with at various times in our lives: the stressful overly organized and passively controlling type; the infuriating narcissist; the I-haven't-yet-grown-up-out-of-my-youthful-sociopathic-stage teenager; and the frustratingly disorganized and hopelessly irresponsible free spirit.
In this short novel--actually little more than a long novella--these four characters must deal with a toxic super mold crisis that takes over New York City. We soon learn that the only way to obliterate this deadly mold is to burn everything: furniture, clothing, papers, photos, clothing...ultimately, the whole building. After that, the Hazmat teams must try, as best they can, to decontaminate the living victims with bleach baths and fungicide. Homelessness and bankruptcy soon follow.
Yes, this is quite a dark plot, but in this author's hands, the tale is handled almost like a fable; also there is much emphasis on wit and black humor.
Besides the characters, I adored this novel's themes. It's very much a contemporary morality story. It is about the irresponsibility of otherwise well-meaning human beings. Was the mold infestation--including the deaths and human misery caused by it--a true "act of God," as the insurance folks demand? Or were there humans involved who could and should have been held responsible for the spread? Can good people do horrible things and still be good people? If so, can they be forgiven? Is this all just a significant part of what it means to be human?
The book is brilliantly well written. It is entertaining, powerful, thought provoking, and humane. I loved it from beginning to end.
Overall, I didn't love it or hate it. The plot is original and thought-provoking, and there are some things in this book that will stick with me.
This novel is billed as "part horror story, part screwball comedy", and that description seemed right for the first few chapters. The mushroom infestation is horrifying. And the characters are beyond quirky. But there's not near enough humor to make this a comedy. And the characters, which were amusing at first, were mostly annoying by the end.
With the publisher's description of sprouting phosphorescent mushrooms, a fired Russian au pair living in a washed up actress' closet; one would think that there would be an element of some type of humor. We also have twin sisters living in the lower level of the actress' home, in a rent controlled apartment. One twin has lived an exciting life, the other a librarian. All are caught up in the hazardous mushroom invasion. Except it is not really treated as an invasion, the mushrooms are almost a minor character and instead of a screwball comedy resembling a 50's or 60's sci-fi plot it is a maudlin exercise in what can go wrong in survival.
What we have is a character study, with scenes and instances that progress from sad to gloomier and more wretched. This is a book for those who wish to read woeful character studies.