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Book - 2018 | First edition
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Learning that he does not have long to live, a widower needs to figure out how to provide for his developmentally disabled adult son. Taking a job as a census taker, the two leave on a cross-country journey through towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet. They meet the townspeople, some of whom welcome them into their homes, while others who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs are wary of their presence. As they approach "Z," the man must confront the purpose of the census, and decide how to say good-bye to his son.
Publisher: New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2018]
Edition: First edition
Copyright Date: ©2018
ISBN: 9780062676139
Call Number: FICTION BALL 2018
Characteristics: ix, 241 pages, 14 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 22 cm


From Library Staff

A terminally ill doctor becomes a census taker so that he can spend his last days traveling the stark countryside with his beloved son. But this is no simple, information-gathering process; instead, it involves obtaining the quintessence of each individual and marking them with a tattoo. This is ... Read More »

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Mar 09, 2019

There is tenderness in the narrator's love for his disabled son, but otherwise, dread infuses this story: the census bureau is mysterious; the census itself seems sinister (there are vague references to "the mark of the beast" with mandatory tattoos and the cormorant on the cover -- the latter reference is obscure but explained in the text); the towns or regions are reported anonymously as nothing more than letters of the alphabet; and though there are provisions for the son after the father's death, the future is uncertain. The narrator comes to question his complicity in the mysterious mission as he starts to ruminate on life itself. This is a good piece of atmospheric writing, though perhaps a little nihilistic, and it reflects the reader's questioning of his/her own part in dubious events expected by society.

Mar 08, 2019

Short listed for the 2019 Tournament of Books.

Jesse Ball opens his novel, “Census,” with a brief essay telling the reader the work arose from his desire to make known the luminous being at the center of his own young life, his older brother Abram who had Down Syndrome and died at the age of twenty-four. He describes placing his brother inside a “hollow” within the writing, allowing a story to gather itself around him. The biographical elements set in the fictional relationship between a vulnerable boy and his protective father are truly the illuminating core of this book, a continual source of wonder that the onerous framing story often obscures.

The story opens as the father and son have been thrown off balance by the unexpected death of the wife and mother who has been the warm sun at the center of their small universe. When the father discovers he is terminally ill he accepts that he can no longer shelter his child from a world he has long considersed too cruel, and sets off to help his son explore it before he must entrust him to its care. This strong but simple story is nearly crushed under the ponderous weight of the absurdist fable about the father’s mysterious work as a census taker for a shadowy state. The father needs no other purpose to take this last journey, and the story needs no other reason to explore both the light and dark aspects of the people and places they meet. It is almost as if Ball does not trust himself to plainly show the reader how deeply dark the world can be when you love someone so easily and pointlessly made its victim.

Still, the patient reader will be rewarded. As the story progresses the darker elements of the census plot begin to drop away and the father’s reflections on his son’s way of being in the world take on both lovely elegiac and metaphysical notes. Many of the vignettes he shares beautifully illustrate Buddhist concepts like the interconnectedness of all being, one-mindfulness in the moment, loving-kindness, and the profundity to be discovered in the simplest occasions, the smallests of beings.

Ball is at his best when he trusts the reader to cherish these insights without artifice or pretense, much as his own brother must have lived in the world.

Jul 09, 2018

I gave this book the fifty page rule. I wanted to like it and I tried to but I found that I could

not connect with the writer's style.

The story itself sounded really good but I honestly cannot report on it since I did not finish

reading it.

I gave it two and a half stars for a story line that I believe many people would like to read.

ArapahoeStaff26 Jun 09, 2018

I am personally heartened by the father's acceptance and courage in contemplating his disabled son's path through life after his loving parents are gone.

A first person narrative by a dying man. He is a widower, retired surgeon, and father of a man with Down Syndrome. Written in the simple language and thoughtful concepts of an allegory.
The voice is direct, authoritative, mature as he recalls how much he loved his wife and how they determined to teach and provide the best life possible for their son. But an atmosphere of dread hangs over the story; the father has made some provision for the son once the father is dead, but the future is uncertain and the father never forgets how vulnerable his son is, at the mercy of humanity's cruelty and kindness. The work has elements of science fiction/allegory as there is a mysterious "Census Bureau" the father takes a job with. There are also philosophical passages as the father muses about what makes a good life, the role of comedy, and art. The man has taken a job with The Census to give him and his son something to do while he is dying and the trip provides rich opportunities for their relationship.

Jun 02, 2018

This book really touched me since I too, grew up with a developmentally handicapped older brother. I cried and laughed. Jesse wrote about this from truth.

May 10, 2018

a rather dystopian novel - taking the census, marked with a tattoo, in an unidentified country.
met with both compassion and ignorance, a widower and his Down syndrome son travel from A to Z where the duo parts and the son goes on to an unknown future.

I found it a disorienting read but it was interesting.

Apr 17, 2018

This is a marvel of a novel. I knew early on that it had to be a slow read. The blurb describes the story but it really doesn't describe anything at all. It is poetry, philosophy, many many stories, told by the father and the people from A to Z (the towns where the census taker and son go to). I am going to wait for it to be discounted (a couple of years) and buy it b/c 1) I want to read it again, and 2) I want to mark it up. In reviews he is compared to Kafka, Borges and Calvino. In Paris Review in 2014, he defined a novel as “an account, or a series of accounts” that create “half a world” – the other half being in the gift of, and supplied by, the reader.


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