2 of 17
272 pages
Jeese Ball's Census is a fantastical road trip novel about a widower and his developmentally disabled son on a journey across a postindustrial dystopia. At the same time, it's Ball's autobiographical exploration of the blessings and complications of life with his sibling Abram, who had Down syndrome and died in 1998 at age 24. The book's singular brilliance lies in its blending of fiction and memoir.

An unnamed father-son pair is tasked by an enigmatic census bureau with surveying citizens and then marking their ribs with tattoos. In sparse, evocative prose, the father chronicles their treks through increasingly desolate towns. His central concern—the spectrum from cruelty to kindness—will have particular resonance for anyone close to a differently abled person who wonders: When my beloved, vulnerable one goes forth into society, how will she be greeted? Will they perceive her humanity, her splendor, or will they register only her otherness?

The novel's enchanting son/brother figure, who lives in "a world without names—wherein we see what is, and are impressed by it," holds essential lessons for the father, who admits he is overly inclined to label things. His son teaches him the value of "trying not, in our attitudes or speech, to lay the world out in hierarchies." This wise, category-defying book eloquently argues that we must also resist categorizing one another.
— Helen Phillips