STARRED REVIEW
March 2018

Inventory of a life

By Jesse Ball

When a father learns his life is nearing its end, he’s left to reckon with what remains. His wife preceded him in death, and he isn’t surprised that his own is imminent. But the couple’s adult son, who has Down syndrome, will outlive him. The father wants to embrace every day he has left with his child, while also ensuring his son will be OK in a world without him.

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When a father learns his life is nearing its end, he’s left to reckon with what remains. His wife preceded him in death, and he isn’t surprised that his own is imminent. But the couple’s adult son, who has Down syndrome, will outlive him. The father wants to embrace every day he has left with his child, while also ensuring his son will be OK in a world without him.

The father, previously a doctor, signs up for a job as an unusual census taker for a secretive government bureau. The position offers the pair an excuse to do something the father and mother had long discussed: He and his son will travel the country, from municipality A to Z, and meet the country’s citizens along the way.

As the pair travels, novelist Jesse Ball slowly reveals that the trip isn’t about the census so much as the people who fill a life and a place. The unnamed father and son meet people of all sorts, some welcoming and some skeptical of the man who will mark them with a census tattoo.

Ball’s spare prose centers on the father’s inner monologue and in the process offers a glimpse of a person facing his inevitable end. “I was a better doctor for having had my son,” the father reflects, “for it left me with a basic stance—that I should not expect anything in particular from anyone, a humility vested not so much in an appraisal of myself, as in a lack of confidence in valuation and prediction.”

Census is a thoughtful, introspective novel that may leave readers contemplating the value of their own relations and inner lives.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Census

Census

By Jesse Ball
Ecco
ISBN 9780062676139

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