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the discovery

A portrait of parents’ bottomless grief

In her tale of bottomless grief, “Fish in Exile’’ (Coffee House), Vi Khi Nao doesn’t so much tell a story as create an atmosphere. The novel follows Ethos and Catholic, a married couple battered by the death of their twins. Grief, for Ethos, is an unfamiliar land he’s been banished to, and he wanders it aimlessly, staring into the cold light of the refrigerator, collecting dead jellyfish on the shore. Ethos manages with work, an affair, actions. The dialogue has the feel of the chorus of a Greek tragedy, and Nao hovers in a world between the mythic and the real (“the drums of the rain shout into the ground, opening the curtain of November’s wound”). Her sentences roll in and surround like a thick fog, dampening, chilling, becoming in certain moments, wholly iridescent.

NINA MACLAUGHLIN

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