James Candler, a 30-something psychotherapist at a mental health clinic near San Diego, is trying to keep his life together. But he’s like an imploding sun, around which a crazy (literally and figuratively) ensemble of characters orbit, trying to find their own way in an ever-bewildering universe.
True, Candler has all the trappings of success – a fancy car, fancy practice, fancy house and fancy fiancee. But none of them proves to be a hedge against personal failure. Just like his patients, it seems, Candler’s life is an out-of-control, irrational mess.
From this recipe of off-center patients and a physician who needs to heal himself, Robert Boswell has whipped up his first novel in 10 years. A tour de force of classic, character-driven storytelling, the book combines humor, pathos, tragedy and beauty in a hunt for “what could pass for a normal life. Maybe it was a C- sort of life, but that was a passing grade.”
A wry commentary on the maddening foibles of contemporary society, “Tumbledown” shows that Boswell’s “writing is increasingly essential,” according to fellow novelist Richard Ford. Boswell has written 11 books and had his short stories published in the New Yorker magazine and “Best American Short Stories.”
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On Tuesday, Wichitans will have a chance to hear Boswell read from and sign copies of “Tumbledown” at Watermark Books & Cafe. Boswell is no stranger to the area. His wife, Antonya Nelson, also a fiction writer with whom he shares the Cullen Chair for Creative Writing at the University of Houston, is a former Wichitan.