In Port Townsend author Rikki Ducornet’s eighth novel, “Brightfellow,” a young boy grows up homeless on a university campus.
by Rikki Ducornet
Coffee House Press, 143 pp., $15.95
Most novels are prose; a few are poetry. Rikki Ducornet’s “Brightfellow” is less about storytelling than about what the light that illuminates the story looks like; her characters seem to float, loosely, in a sea of lush language. You read it not so much for what happens, but for how it happens, for how a sentence like “The sound of the evening news rises to the stars and like a venomous ink of squids hooked to a rusting respirator, canned laughter oxidizes in the air” seems like both too much and exactly right. It’s a brief work that you might read in one sitting; not so much a page-turner as a page-seducer.
At its center is Stub, who we first meet as a merry little boy: “If you could peel him like an orange you would find laughter all the way through.” Quickly, though, it’s clear that his childhood is troubled and his future dark. Turn a few pages and he’s a young man, living homeless on a nearby university campus. He survives by stealing food (no cooling pie on a windowsill is safe) and sleeping in gardens during summer and forgotten campus rooms in winter. He keeps himself busy by reading obsessively in pursuit of his fascination with the works of an obscure philosopher, and by forming a gentle friendship with a charming, imaginative faculty child, who christens him Brightfellow.
Then, one day, everything changes. An emeritus professor, “lonely, long in tooth, all angles,” offers the wanderer (whom he mistakes for a scholar) a spare bedroom in his echoing home. The food is manna, the bed soft, “the sheets nacreous — [he] thinks he will sleep like a chosen child, suspended in a pearly haze.” But this is no fairy tale, as Stub’s unhappy past casts a shadow.
“Brightfellow” is the eighth novel for Ducornet, a Port Townsend-based writer and artist. It’s over almost before it starts, and before you’re quite sure just who Stub really is, but it casts a hypnotic spell; something about how childhood looks in the mind’s dusty mirror, and how words can form a blanket that keeps us warm.
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