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This Magnificent Desolation: A Novel by Thomas O’Malley


Duncan’s entire world is the orphanage where he lives, a solitary outpost on the open plains of northern Minnesota. Aged ten in 1980, he has no memories of his life before now, but he has stories that he recites like prayers: the story of how his mother brought him here during the worst blizzard of the century; the story of how God spoke to him at his birth and gave him a special purpose.

Duncan is sure that his mother is dead until the day she turns up to claim him. Maggie Bright, a soprano who was once the talent of her generation, now sings in a San Francisco bar through a haze of whisky cut with sharp regret. She often finishes up in the arms of Joshua McGreevey, a Vietnam vet who earns his living as part of a tunneling crew seventy feet beneath the Bay. He smells of sea silt and loam, as if he has been dredged from the deep bottom of the world – and his wounds run deep too.

Thrown into this mysterious adult world, Duncan finds comfort in an ancient radio, from which tumble the voices of Apollo mission astronauts who never came home, and dreams of finding his real father.

A heart-breaking, staggering, soaring novel, This Magnificent Desolation allows a child’s perspective to illuminate a dark world, and explores the creeping devastation of war, the many facets of loneliness, the redemptive power of the imagination, and the possibility of a kind of grace.

My Review

What a story this is, layered with some great descriptive writing, characters and words in the right places. The Steinbeck or Cormac McCarthy reader will love this authors crafted ability to write presented in this novel, written with the same darkness and light, struggle and triumph and matters supernatural than the mentioned authors have written with. A real treat of a read for this year and one to recommend and add to my best of 2013 list of reads.
Read an excerpt or a first chapter kindle sample and you will clearly see a great story with some great writing.
The book art and great title lived up to judging a book by its cover and done a great service in me wanting to read this.

The narrative of a young boy and hooks you into the world around him visible and unseen that he talks of, others do too, it hypnotically immerses you in this tale. His struggle and hope, and his love for his mother and wanting of his lost father makes great storytelling and could touch a cord in the readers heart. His light and dark world may have you fully intertwined as if you are there with him in his shoes.

Another memorable and likeable character is Joshua a veteran and a hard laborer, a worker in the building of tunnels, he too talks with a keener eye on things unseen but known of and meaningful to himself.

The boys mother was once an opera singer but as tragedy hit, the tables had turned and she lived in memories and darkness but her return of her long lost son could prove to be her saving grace her resolution and could help her recapture and revive her gift.

A wonderful redemptive story of Love, family, gifted and talented characters and the worlds bigger picture.

“At dusk the sky above the farms and pastureland of Stockholdt,
Minnesota, roils as if it were a living thing, twisting and writhing toward the northeastern horizon, where, briefly visible are small towns, windows glinting nacre in the tallow light, and black-ash-yellow-birch-and evergreen-lined slopes upon which rust-colored buildings, tin mining shacks, logging camps, and pyramids of dead timber bloom. Above the glacial Iron Range, the sky is a sheet of flat gray steel and the mountains merely an outline stamped upon this background: a picture taking shape, trembling momentarily, and then becoming fixed in its bath of silver halide. Animals, sensing the storm, are still. Not a thing moves. And then at the farthest edges of the sky, a slight undulation begins like a wave far out at sea, and with it comes a slow, rushing blackness as of night. A great wind rises up from the north, and from the deep, leaded bellies of clouds, it begins to snow.”

“There is a moment of cessation, when the storm momentarily abates and the sky clears, and the stars begin to fall from the heavens.
Brother Canice says that on the night Duncan’s mother arrived with him bundled in her arms, he witnessed from the chapels tower a meteor shower flaring bright over the Iron Range, and so distinct and singular was its effect that he swears that he heard each meteor’s tail hissing-startling chromatic colours momentarily so brilliant that,
when he closed his eyes, he saw them still.”

“Duncan thinks of Padre Martin de Lupe often. He is a ravager of children, the Black Angel who lurks in the wine cellar and in the catacombs and labyrinths, in the empty casket hold and charnel house, and who, to this day, haunts the children’s graveyard, cradling the worsted, fleshy knot of his broken neck and his head, cantered at a broken angle against his right shoulder, from the back of which hangs a great wing that drags a yard upon the ground, and when he speaks, his voice is a hiss, a gasp, and, quite possibly, the last thing you will ever hear.”

“But when the sun goes down and shadows creep across the courtyard and cold comes running from the northern plains, and the lights flicker and the children’s breaths steam the crepuscular light, and the lands that surround the Home seem so vast as to be impenetrable and from their windows they see the vastness of that plain upon which here and there a small farmhouse flickers with a light that seems as distant as the stars, then everything changes.”

“In the earth the men find strange things: the fossilized bones of ancient cows and horses, the curving swan-like neck of some strange feathered raptor impressed into the frozen chalk and clay, half a wing section of a WWII hellcat, and a giant billboard for Regal Pale beer. No one can explain how such a thing came to be, three hundred feet below San Francisco. At times such as these, they feel as if they have been blessed, deigned to witness such sights, chosen from millions of others for this special task, and they think of the men and women upon the city streets above them, the throng and press of bodies, the blaring of car horns and screeching of brakes. Working in the tunnel they realise they have been granted a special dispensation, a divination promise of brotherhood and illumination as long as they continue to strike and chisel and hammer and drill and pull and cart and drag the earth of the ocean bed.”

“A few stars twinkle dully near the roof of the world in the dark blue that is the end of the day. Night will soon sink down like ink through a sieve, and suddenly the sky holds numerous unforeseen, unconsidered wonders—he now knew that beyond the astronauts and Apollo rockets, beyond the moon and the stars, there lay something far greater. God had been with him all this time and now he had a clear sign of his presence. He had called out to him, just as he had at his birth.”

“The phonograph’s spring-powered motor clicks as its worn tumblers rotate and the old acetate sighs and hisses against the stylus. When his mother’s voice comes, Duncan holds his breath, just as he always does, for on this recording, where she emulates the velvety vibrato of Sissieretta Jones, her voice seems suddenly such a fragile and tenuous thing, momentarily suspended between this world and some other and filled not with the desperation and longing of a latter-day, ruined Silva Brohm, but with a singular, plaintive joy.”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 25 March 2013