Review by Alexandria A. Smythe

Brightfellow by Rikki Ducornet
Coffee House Press
July 5, 2016. Paperback.
ISBN: 978-1566894401

Brightfellow, the newest novel from award winning author Rikki Ducornet, is a story of decadence and deviance. It focuses its gaze on the refuse of life—things that are lost, tossed out, abandoned—and makes them beautiful through her mastery of imagery and voice. Ducornet has previously published nine novels, along with collections of short stories and poetry. A talented prose and poetry author, Ducornet masters the art of storytelling in lyrical voice.

This sinuous novel spins a dark story of both physical and emotional survival in the face of abandonment. Brightfellow is broken into two parts that follow the protagonist, Stub. The first covers his early life with his manic mother and distant father, and the second covers his later life when he reinvents himself as an Australian Fulbright scholar named Charter. Living as a homeless teenager on a lush college campus, he surrounds himself with misplaced sweaters and pilfered pies. He is a thief by necessity and by compulsion. A discontent Stub feels a deep need, but for what he is not sure. His life of isolation is interrupted when Charter meets Asthma, a young faculty brat whose innocence bewitches him, and Billy, a lonely professor who welcomes the lost boy into his home. Charterís lies begin to mount while his obsession, with both Asthma and a brilliant—but insane—scholar named Verner Vanderloon, leads him to fulfillment and desolation.

Ducorentís talent for storytelling is evident in the sensuality of detail and language that suspends a moment and does not let it go until its very essence is extracted, distilled, and presented in a tall cocktail glass that sweats with intensity. As tension mounts, Stub unravels, but Ducornet never does. Her attention to the story and its beautiful imagery is unwavering from the first to the final lines of the novel. Although the plotting of the story may be slow, it is as if the reader is savoring a lyrical indulgence that romances and overwhelms the senses. With Brightfellow, Ducornet offers not only beauty, but also substance.

Ducornetís novel burns like an inferno. Its flames dance with lyrical playfulness. It has the power to attract with its heat and heart while it unsettles with its crackling power. An attentive reader of Ducornetís latest novel can expect to be tempted, allured, and, ultimately, devastated.