A New York Times Notable Book: A man sorts through the secret life of his troubled, reclusive brother in this “powerful, moving personal history” (Entertainment Weekly).
Every family has its odd character, the one who never seems right with the world. When a grieving John Vernon was charged with settling his brother’s affairs, he came face to face with a life he had never suspected. His brother’s house in southern New Hampshire was in a state of squalid, shocking disrepair: piled high with a lifetime of trash, unheated and decrepit, and pitifully unlivable. An assembly worker and an amateur inventor, Paul had managed to keep his sad and strange world hidden. But John couldn’t help but search for reasons. Why does a childhood full of promise turn wrong? Why do we clutter our lives with things? What are the meanings behind the material objects we acquire?
John seeks answers in the most unexpected places. Buying a hammer and thermometer at Walmart, this icon of consumerism inspires a short history of tools and the discovery of mercury. Paul’s wake occasions an investigation of blood circulation and embalming. He voyages through science and physiology, culture and mythology, on a search “for a way to comprehend a life that left behind not splendid monuments but ordinary wreckage.”
The result is a book of reasons: reasons for his brother’s way of life, reasons for his own response to Paul’s death. Linking the story of one odd individual to the surprising and irregular upheavals of history, John discovers how reasons, for all of us, are one means of learning to accept things that can never be explained.
“[A] heartwarming tale of brotherly love.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A beautiful performance lit by stark, revealing bursts of language and delivered with the gravity of liturgy.” —Publishers Weekly
“His ability to evoke wonder is inspiring.” —Newsday