three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
39-Mar-Apr-2009
user_rating: 
0

A-The Sky BelowStacey D’Erasmo, a former literary critic for Village Voice, has published two previous novels to widespread critical acclaim: Tea (2000) and A Seahorse Year (2004). She currently teaches at Columbia University.

The Story: When his father runs away, eight-year-old Gabriel, raised on stories from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, exchanges his idyllic New England childhood for a shabby Florida motel, where his dreamy, otherworldly mother finds work as a manager. Teenaged Gabriel sells sex in a public men’s room and burglarizes nearby homes, eventually attending college in Arizona and discovering a passion for box art. He moves to Manhattan’s East Village, where he writes obituaries for a flagging newspaper, and then leaves for Mexico when he is diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease. Throughout his life, Gabriel remains fascinated by the myths that captivated him as a child, believing that the ancient gods are never far away and his own transformation is imminent.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 271 pages. $24. ISBN: 0618439250

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"D’Erasmo writes a hyperkinetic, highly lyricized prose that’s in turn mind-blowing and occasionally exhausting. And yet studded throughout are ringingly memorable lines, ones that make you see, hear, feel." Ted Weesner Jr.

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"D’Erasmo gives [Gabe] a tenderly perceptive way of experiencing the post-9/11 metropolis that makes him beguiling even at his most selfish. … Intricately imagined and economically told, D’Erasmo’s riddling third novel made me want to start over as soon as I reached the last page." Hephzibah Anderson

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"In her conceptually brilliant, imaginative, brimming and suspenseful novel, her evocations of place are ravishing; her characters are at once richly human and magical and their confounding predicaments are both commonplace and cosmic. Erotic and mystical, intricately made and deeply felt, The Sky Below is a vivid tale of profound dimension and resonance." Donna Seaman

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"[Gabriel]’s probably not much of an artist—he certainly meets with no worldly success—but he’s a brilliant narrator. Vibrant and precise, his storytelling is memorable not so much for its individual phrases (though plenty are exquisite) as for its overall sense of immersion into a distinctive world." Susann Cokal

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"She does indulge a few irritating ticks: character names thrown in with no context, the occasional overreach: ‘I walked over to the windowsill and picked up the little bronze bell, rang it. Hello, universe. Hello. No answer.’ But The Sky Below gathers narrative force as Gabe’s tale becomes stranger, and as the cruel mingles with the tender in a way that startles and abrades." Karen R. Long

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In despair, Gabriel describes himself as ‘a random collection of gestures and half-understood inclinations.’ There are moments in The Sky Below when that randomness coalesces into wonder. But there are others when Gabriel seems like just another neurotic, in a city full of them." Janice P. Nimura

San Francisco Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"At its best, The Sky Below is a beautifully written compilation of the small, strange specificities that make us each uniquely human. At its worst, it is filled with too-deliberate unconventionalities that dehumanize rather than compel." Margot Kaminski

Critical Summary

D’Erasmo walks a fine line in this unruly fairy tale of a novel: her characters, quirky to the point of becoming neurotic, inhabit a pseudo-enchanted world that hovers between fantasy and reality. Despite being "D’Erasmo’s most complex and accomplished character to date" (New York Times Book Review), Gabriel isn’t very likeable, but his self-absorption and amorality have their roots in a longing for meaning that resonated with critics, who described him as "unnervingly compelling" (Boston Globe). D’Erasmo’s bright, crystalline prose illuminates the fanciful world she has created, though some critics grew tired of its perpetual strangeness and excessive details. The novel is by turns beautiful and bizarre, mesmerizing and mystifying.