Jesse Ball is the current darling of the po-mo artsy literary movement. It seems Jesse can’t put a pen to paper without winning an award for it. His work has appeared in The Paris Review and won the Plimpton Prize and a previous novel was a finalist for the Believer Book Award. Considering all of the literary bunting that surrounds his name on book jackets, I went into The Curfew expecting a lot, and those expectations were about half met.
The Curfew is about a father and his daughter trying to survive meagerly in a dystopian Orwellian future. Unlike 1984, there’s no long prologemena explaining why this future world is the way it is, or if it’s even the future. Instead, the setting seems at times like a refraction of our own world–but then, I guess all such visions of utopias or dystopians are just that.
The main character’s wife disappeared at some point prior to the events of the novel, and her disappearance was never satisfactorily explained, launching the father out on a quest after the government’s ordained curfew hour, leaving his daughter with a friend who happens to be a masterful puppeteer. It’s then about the father voyaging out into the dark, and the daughter being explained the facts of life by puppets.
One of the reasons why Ball’s work is so acclaimed is that he takes apart some of the conventions of the novel by breaking up his prose into chunks of text, and further he breaks up his book into very short chapters, sometimes no more than a page. This isn’t entirely a new technique, and reader’s of Vonnegut will surely be reminded of Hocus Pocus or Breakfast of Champions by the disjointed flow of the book.
My feelings about this book were mixed to say the least. Sometimes the book seemed too familiar, and too much in the vein of early novels by Paul Auster and Don Delillo. Auster’s In The Country of Last Things involved a similar concept of a dystopian and fractured America, and Delillo’s spare economical style was echoed by Ball, and in particular Mao II and The Names came to mind while reading The Curfew. All too many novels now are being written in the style of Delillo, so this was at times grating.
At other times though, the book featured great insights and I was occasionally in awe of the inventive nature of some of the plot twists.
Bottom Line: If anything, all of the awards Ball is receiving are largely hurting his career, making him out to be something more than he is. He is a good writer, but the fanfare surrounding him makes him out to be a literary messiah. The Curfew is a good book nonetheless, and you might as well read it if you can get it from the library or a used book store. The Curfew is a pretty quick read as well.