A beautiful and compulsively readable literary debut that introduces Owen Burr—an Olympian whose dreams of greatness are dashed and then transformed by an epic journey—and his father, Professor Joseph Burr, who must travel the world to find his son. After his athletic career ends abruptly, Owen flees the country to become an artist. He lands in Berlin where he meets a group of art monsters living in the Teutonic equivalent of Warhol’s Factory. After his son’s abrupt disappearance, Burr dusts off his more speculative ideas in a last-ditch effort to command both Owen’s and the world’s attention. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall offers a persuasive vision of faith, ambition, art, family, and the myths we write for ourselves.
A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall is an exuberant literary debut–a novel of real ideas and a playful examination of our in-between world, one that explores the nature of family, identity, art, and belief while also marking the introduction of an original new voice in contemporary fiction.
Owen Burr is the six-foot-eight, Olympics-bound senior captain of the Stanford University water polo team. In his final collegiate match, however, he suffers a catastrophic injury that destroys his hopes and dreams, flattening his entire world into two dimensions. His identity as an athlete erased but his ambition indelible, he defies his father, a classics professor who lives in a “cave” of his own making, and moves to Berlin with naive plans to make conceptual art. Then he disappears.
Without a single clue as to his son’s location, Dr. Burr embarks upon a tour of public lectures from Greece to Germany to Iceland in an attempt to draw out his endangered son. Instead, he foments a violent uprising.
And here is the short version of what I have to say:
Will Chancellor’s Twit-Pic
I love this book so much and I can’t explain it and you just have to read it. And Will Chancellor is so beautiful and he followed me on Twitter and he’s really smart and funny and nice too. And, yeah, really beautiful.
Now, that’s out of the way. A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall is truly gorgeous, glorious, provocative in the best way and worth every moment of the ten years (yes, TEN YEARS) Mr. Chancellor spent refining its brilliance. You can read about that journey and process by CLICKING HERE for Steph Post’s blog [Steph Post is the author of the novel “A Tree Born Crooked” about which I wrote CLICK HERE] containing a fascinating interview with Mr. Chancellor
The novel’s first paragraphs give indication that one is in for a different kind of a ride:
–I’m gonna close with a quote from Dr. Johnson: “The certainty that life cannot be long, and the probability that it will be much shorter than nature allows, ought to awaken every man to the active prosecution of whatever he is desirous to perform. It is true that no diligence can ascertain success; death may intercept the swiftest career; but he who is cut off in the execution of an honest undertaking has at least the honour of falling in his his rank, and has fought the battle, though he missed the victory.”
The whole idea of a pregame speech seemed kind of meaty for a water polo team. Looking to an Enlightenment figure for a battle cry? Questionable to quite questionable.
The juxtaposition of the slangy, mumbly opening “I’m gonna” as intro to hyper-articulate utterance of Johnson’s variation on the “try your best” trope – spoken in language so nearly impenetrably dense to modern ears as to qualify as a foreign tongue requiring translation – lays a foundation for what is to come: a fusion of the Baroque, the classical, and the so-hip-it-quite-literally-hurts, up-to-the-minute Zeitgeistian cult of self-interest and celebrity. This is a novel about – as Johnson said – the awakening of the drive to pursue the active prosecution of one’s desires and the expeditions and crusades undertaken in the service of those quests.
If that makes the novel sound like a modern epic, well, on one level, it is. And, too, a Bildungsroman. And too, suffused with erotic longing and adventure. And, oh, yes, also near-mythology in often poetic prose. Also, a spiritual and psychological case study. And, too, a microcosmic telling of the perils of the reductive-image-whore culture into which we’ve all bought. Mr. Chancellor limns the dream-like, fantastical escape of someone who feels ill-at-ease within the confines and demands of that culture, a dis-ease I suspect most of us, most of the time, would feel if we could slow down enough to catch our breath while in active prosecution (as it were) of our desperate efforts to make a fortune, find that ever-after, or, at the very least, make it appear via our social media profiles that we’re well on our way to the happy-end (or, middle?). Or, more important, that wherever we are on the ladder, we are interesting enough to follow and emulate. We aren’t living any more – we’re click-baiting, and more and more, it is less and less fulfilling – and some people are starting to get that and make new choices, or, like Owen, in the act of running away, they manage to trip, stumble, and fall into new choices.
So, what sort of a novel is this? When asked, Mr. Chancellor answered Ms. Post like this:
The first draft was explicitly trying to adapt seven of the Sagas of Icelanders. The book began trying to figure out the psyche of Owen, who is not only privileged, but unburdened by existential paralysis. The nearest/only antecedent I found was in the warrior poet sagas. Structurally, I was also working with the Odyssey and the six poetic revisions in Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence–sounds like a hoot, right?! Jesus.
Vestiges of all the early drafts are probably still there. It’s a saga. And a thriller. Everything in my life for the past ten years has been filtered through this book, so that’s why it’s hard to classify. Luckily ‘novel’ is a hell of a catch all.
Yes. That. And have I mentioned how much I loved this book? How profoundly it moved me? And how charming is Mr. Chancellor. And so attractive, too?
I’m being shallow. But there is so much to this novel, so many layers, and I am sure that I – woefully absent classical education – missed many of the esoteric references – but, that just proves how well done is this novel. It works as both popular and literary fiction; it is deep, it is full of metaphor and symbol without being rife with pretension and intelligentsia-poseur-snottiness.
Examples; our hero (anti-hero?) Owen; a huge -over-sized even – near giant of a man, beautiful, desirable, leading an enviable life, smart, strong, and pretty – is half-blinded for his trouble. A loss of vision, a loss of sight, a loss of depth-perception which prompts his journey, his departure, his turning away from the culture that valued all those traits that had given him worth, defined him. He leaves them behind. Or, tries to. And manages to land in another equally vapid milieu, full of its own fakes, frauds, fakirs, and rapists – where he is further eviscerated, literally denuded, made to suffer indignities and abuses because of his beauty, his gifts – which have, by then, become too, his burden and his curse.
And Owen’s father, Joseph, suffers his own trials – not unlike those of Socrates. And the indictment in these pages of the bogus, bilious mazes of academia. And the shameless self-promotion and rip-off-spit-in-the-face-shock-for-shock’s-sake, contempt for everyone and everything mentality of factory-made modern art and the gallery world. And the wars polluting current events, made fodder for faux-art and … and … stop reading me and start reading the book.
Mr. Chancellor skewers “big” modern culture and reality in a small, personal way that somehow – at the same time – is universal. Listen to this description of the effects of a long loneliness:
He rolled through a red light. In front of his neighbors and with kids walking home from school, Burr ran a red light and then another. Not orangish-red. Burr ran through lamps minutes hot. He glanced at the windshield and read his inspection sticker in reverse. It had lapsed in late ’03. He almost wanted an officer to lead him away in handcuffs, just for the moment of concern when a door would be opened for him and he’d be pushed in the back with a ‘Watch your head.’
Now, that is a glorious paragraph. So rich with character detail. Such a perfect precis of what decades of ache can do. It is tragic and delusional. And the language has such rhythm. And much later in the book, this:
Owen winced at the world he would have to rejoin. The world of opinion-poll decisions and parceled attention. The binary world where you’re either with us or against us. The world where men of nuance are neither known nor respected, wandering the world until they retreat to the maw of a mountain.
That is gorgeous in so many ways – its truth, its musical pattern, its choice of language, its punctuation. Beautiful.
Listen, please, read this book. I loved it. And did I mention, Mr. Chancellor is not only lovely, personable, and a ridiculously, envy-inducingly gifted author, but, too, he is so handsome.
I bought my copy of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall at my local independent bookstore, The Curious Iguana. Click HERE and visit them. Tell them Charlie sent you.