‘Brightfellow’ by Rikki Ducornet (2016) – 143 pages
Perhaps the best word to describe ‘Brightfellow’ by Rikki Ducornet is “surreal”. The novel has a strange dreamlike nightmarish quality. The works of Italo Calvino such as ‘The Baron in the Trees’ and ‘The Nonexistent Knight’ are also described as surreal, but they are bright and sunny. Perhaps darker writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King are a better template for ‘Brightfellow’.
‘Brightfellow’ is about a boy named Stub. In the first chapter he is four years old and living with his mother, but by the end of the chapter his mother leaves him. He lives with his father a short time, but his father dies in a house fire, and Stub must fend for himself. By the second chapter he is a young man living surreptitiously in a hidden room of the anthropology library on campus, stealing food as needed, and researching the spurious anthropologist Verner Vanderloon. He assumes the name of academic Charter Chase In the reviews, Stub is described as “feral”, but Ducornet never uses that word to describe him. I look upon Stub as a wild child/man. ‘Brightfellow’ would probably be classified as a suspense novel, but there is an undercurrent of campus humor here.
Later an aging homosexual Professor named just Billy takes him in to live in a campus neighborhood residential home. For a while their life seems somewhat stable, but Stub is fixated on the next-door neighbors, especially the seven year-old daughter Asthma. The fixation is not at all sexual but somehow relates to his misbegotten upbringing. This is all very strange.
I have read one previous novel by Rikki Ducornet, ‘Netsuke’. That novel was a tale of relentless sexual obsession in a much more realistic mode than ‘Brightfellow’. I was very much impressed with Ducornet’s style of writing in ‘Netsuke’, and it made my year-end Top Ten list for that year.
However ‘Brightfellow’ did not have that same impact on me. The writing is fine and very readable and held my apt attention throughout. However the situations were too weird and strange for me to fully comprehend, let alone empathize with. Also the final payoff or scene of the novel seemed unearned and did not resonate with me.
I do like the fact that Ducornet went in a totally different direction with this novel than from her last, indicating her willingness to try different things.