Ruth Ozeki’s “The Book of Form and Emptiness”

November 12, 2021

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Ruth Ozeki is a writer, filmmaker, Zen Buddhist priest, and author of three novels, My Year of Meats, All Over Creation, and A Tale for the Time Being, which was a finalist for the 2013 Booker Prize. Her nonfiction work includes the memoir The Face: A Time Code and the documentary film Halving the Bones. 

Ozeki joins Eric Newman and Medaya Ocher to talk about her latest work, The Book of Form and Emptiness. The novel opens with the death of Kenji, an itinerant jazz musician who is run over by a chicken truck after he falls down in the street late at night and is too intoxicated to pick himself back up. The story follows Kenji’s wife, Annabelle, and son, Benny, as they both cope, in their own ways, with their terrible tragedy. Annabelle becomes a hoarder, stacking various objects in their home as a kind of insurance against loss. Benny starts to hear those objects, and many others, talking to him, which eventually lands him in a psychiatric ward. As the novel moves forward, Benny meets an alluring, rebellious girl, Aleph, and Slajov the Bottleman, a wheelchair-bound alcoholic whose ravings about poetry, capitalism, and philosophy gin up, in part, the novel’s deep investment in questions about consumption, objects, and grief.

Also, Tom McCarthy, author of The Making of Incarnation, returns to recommend Ann Quin’s Three.