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Originally published Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 12:00 AM


Book review

"The Sky Below" is clouded by far-fetched plot

Stacey D'Erasmo's novel "The Sky Below" is a coming-of-age tale about a Manhattan artist and obituary writer who clings to a state of perpetual adolescence — until a mysterious blood disease gets his attention.

Special to The Seattle Times

"The Sky Below"

by Stacey D'Erasmo

Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt, 320 pp., $24

Is it possible to write a believable "coming of age" story about someone in their late thirties? Writer Stacey D'Erasmo gives it a try in her newest novel, "The Sky Below," and the results are not encouraging.

D'Erasmo's narrator is Gabriel Callahan. At 37, Gabriel is an unhappy low achiever. Gabriel sometimes works as a visual artist but mostly he writes obituaries for a sinking Manhattan newspaper. Friend-wise he has a rich older boyfriend, Janos, who makes few demands on his time or psyche, and a soul-sister musician named Sarah with whom he can share his artistic frustrations.

But Gabriel has a hole in his heart that no amount of love and indulgence can fill. Long ago when Gabriel was a boy, his father abandoned Gabriel's family. Gabriel is frozen in a state of perpetual adolescence — he won't cop to his own bad behavior, which includes occasional petty theft.

Along comes a mysterious blood-disease diagnosis that finally gets his attention when the doctor tells him: "The good news is that while it's not quite curable, it's only fatal now and then." Obviously, a lifestyle change is in order here. And soon we find Gabriel in a commune in Mexico searching for ... his father? His spirituality? His moral compass?

As a stylist, D'Erasmo can write engaging prose, even as she concocts a plot that is far-fetched in the extreme. But no amount of word play can make this overstuffed poetic fantasy into an engrossing novel.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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