Goodness: Jesse Ball’s The Curfew certainly does pack a curious, diffused-until-the-end-ish, poetic, genre-bending punch. I’ll have to admit: its being hyped by The Believer made me raise a skeptical eyebrow, and having witnessed the man reading his poetry, I was wary of being exposed to something super-self-consciously experimental. But the almost-bare bones tale of a man and his daughter and the dictatorial times in which they’re living ended up surprising me with moments of undeniable, simple– not simplistic– beauty.
Among other things, there’s the revelation that occurs within an elaborate puppet show, that the parents have left a secretly-coded key to their daughter, a totem of sorts that will give her access to a treasure they’ve also buried for her benefit, to be found when she’s ready to experience its family-centered illumination.* Ball captures all the fascination and magic that such a prospect would entail for a child: it’s just the thing I would have gone existentially wild for as a kid, much better proof than tales of gods or miracles that the transcendent was real. And as part of the narrative itself, Molly, the daughter, has been trained, unbeknownst to her, from early on in being able to sniff out secret clues and to read hidden signs– a process that in itself allows to grow the tight relationship between her and her father that will make the eventual discovery of this legendary box truly meaningful.
I really can’t reveal more than that, because so much is given to us in such a short book, that even the little paragraph I’ve just written risks opening up too much of the story for a reader who wants to experience its emotional shifts in full. As should come as no surprise, though, it’s evident that this novella– a thing that finds beauty even in the midst of grim horror– is the product of a poet– and that, thanks to this truly interesting tale, I’m going to give that poet a second chance.
* “Our child will one day learn of this and find this place and gain possession of many of the key treasures of our early life.” Jesse Ball, The Curfew (New York: Vintage Books, 2011), 154.