Jesse Ball is coming to Off Square Books at 5 p.m. Tuesday to sign and read from his latest release, “Census.” The novel tells the story of a cross-country journey taken by a widower who finds his time is almost up and must come to terms with leaving behind his son, who has autism and Down syndrome.
“Census” is one of the most anticipated books of 2018, according to the New York Times, the Chicago Reader, Southern Living and BuzzFeed.
In “Census,” readers follow the widower as he gathers census data for a mysterious government bureau and travels through towns in an alphabetical order, meeting all kinds of people.
During his journey, the widower begins to question the purpose of his trip, and the further he travels, the more his questions being to form.
Some towns are welcoming and friendly, but the further the widower pushes toward the edge of civilization, more towns are fraught with industrial decay. The protagonist must find a way to say goodbye to his son, and he wonders if he made the wrong decision by being a part of the census.
Author of “The Answers” and partner of Jesse Ball, Catherine Lacey shared a few of her thoughts on his latest novel, which is her favorite so far.
“It’s a beautiful story of two people trying to make their way through a world that is sometimes cruel or indifferent to beauty,” Catherine Lacey, author of “The Answers,” said.
Lacey said that of Ball’s novels, this is one of her favorites.
“I think it could serve a purpose in the lives of many people,” Lacey said.
The places in the book may not be found on a map, but that doesn’t make them any less real for the reader.
“You could not find the places if you were to look for them,” Ball said. “But in some sense, they are real.”
These places bring questions to the widower’s mind about the purposes of both the census and his life.
Lacey said Ball’s writing process is a quick one. She said he usually finishes a book in about a week, but she’s seen him write an entire book in a day. As a writer, he continually bounces back with new and original ideas.
“I think of Jesse’s work as being on a continuum,” Lacey said. “They are distinct books, but they cohere in a way that makes it difficult to compare them.”
Ball also typically doesn’t take others’ advice or critiques of his work, according to Lacey.
“Jesse usually doesn’t ask for or take notes or advice from anyone on his work,” Lacey said. “I have been able to read his books as he finishes them, and that’s been nice for me.”
Travel is a huge theme in the book, and Ball said it was up to the readers to find out what the protagonist’s journey helps him find. Travel, especially outside of the United States, is important to Ball.
“We have very little sense here of how people live in other places,” Ball said. “It leads us to make cruel and obtuse political decisions.”
Ball said that life, by default, is like research, as long as people pay attention.