The Small Backs of Children

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The Small Backs of Children Fiction
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Product Description

A masterful literary talent explores the treacherous, often violent borders between war and sex, love and art.

With the flash of a camera, one girl’s life is shattered, and a host of others altered forever. . .

In a war-torn village in Eastern Europe, an American photographer captures a heart-stopping image: a young girl flying toward the lens, fleeing a fiery explosion that has engulfed her home and family. The image wins acclaim and prizes, becoming an icon for millions—and a subject of obsession for one writer, the photographer’s best friend, who has suffered a devastating tragedy of her own.

As the writer plunges into a suicidal depression, her filmmaker husband enlists several friends, including a fearless bisexual poet and an ingenuous performance artist, to save her by rescuing the unknown girl and bringing her to the United States. And yet, as their plot unfolds, everything we know about the story comes into question: What does the writer really want? Who is controlling the action? And what will happen when these two worlds—east and west, real and virtual—collide?

A fierce, provocative, and deeply affecting novel of both ideas and action that blends the tight construction of Julian Barnes’sThe Sense of an Ending with the emotional power of Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Lidia Yuknavitch’sThe Small Backs of Children is a major step forward from one of our most avidly watched writers.

Editorial Reviews

A grieving mother becomes obsessed with a famous photograph of a child fleeing a war zone. Yuknavitch (Dora: A Headcase, 2012, etc.) made an impression with her transgressive memoir The Chronology of Water, and her new novel features similar plot points and themes. The primary narrator (all except one of the characters are unnamed) is a bisexual writer, a recovering heroin addict, a wife, the mother of a dead daughter and a "strange and alive boy." She has become fixated on the subject of a photograph from an Eastern European conflict that portrays a young girl running away from the explosion that destroyed her home and killed her family. In recounting her life and art, the writer loosely describes a group of friends and family that includes her brother, the playwright; her husband, the filmmaker; her former lover the combat photojournalist; a deeply damaged performance artist; and her best friend, a fiercely ambisexual poet. None of these characters is particularly interesti ng, and they merely serve as players in the writer's ruminations on art and the violent, sexually charged sections that follow. When the writer collapses and is hospitalized, presumably from the weight of her grief, the poet becomes convinced they need to travel overseas to find the girl in the photo and bring her to safety. The narrative largely collapses into literary experimentalism at this point, with chapters posed as screenplays, fragmented imagery, poetry, minimalism, and white space substituted for storytelling. This isn't necessarily a negative—Yuknavitch is a gifted writer whose dizzying passages are often as compelling as they are grotesque. But it's not a pretty story, and the novel's affected musings on the nature of art, gratuitous sexual excesses, and casual violence may overpower the grace of its words for some readers. Patricia Highsmith by way of Kathy Acker in a highbrow thriller that says as much about its writer as its story. Copyright Kirkus 2015 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

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