Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say
About Robert Vivian


Copyright © 2011
by Robert Vivian
U of Nebraska P

Lem Purchase is in California when a call comes in the dead of night: his younger, disturbed brother in Nebraska announces his plans to carry out an act of terrorism targeting the state capitol building in Lincoln. This isn’t the first time Lem has had to make a frantic check on Jackson. Nor is it the first time that author Robert Vivian has taken us to the haunted world of the Great Plains. Critics called Vivian’s first two books in the Tall Grass Trilogy “lyrical and harrowing” (Sven Birkerts on The Mover of Bones) and “brilliantly written” (Publishers Weekly on Lamb Bright Saviors). In this third and final volume in the trilogy, Vivian weaves the voices of Lem, Jackson, and Lem’s estranged wife, Lissa, into an American triptych of longing, remembrance, and innocence — of hopes almost fulfilled and inevitably disappointed — as we race to Jackson’s reckoning with history that must have its day.
While Jackson hatches yet another plan that rivals the first in madness and ultimately threatens Lem’s life, Lem’s reflections reveal what, and how much, that life has meant. In Jackson’s determination we encounter another view of what matters, as he clings to his apocalyptic notion of the only way in which the country can be reclaimed from its present madness. — from the publisher

The three haunted voices of Robert Vivian’s Another Burning Kingdom tell individual tales of interweaving fates that also etch a portrait of America’s forgotten ones. Vivian’s visionary trilogy of novels is brought to stunning conclusion here, capping an original achievement in American fiction, offering both apocalyptic revelation and possible redemption. — Philip Graham, author of How to Read an Unwritten Language

Vivian writes in the Southern Gothic tradition, though his fiction is set in Nebraska and the West. ... Violence and the rural are important to this story, as is letting the dispossessed speak for themselves. The rural subjectivity expressed in Another Burning Kingdom is horrific and beautiful. — Aaron Gwyn, author of The World Beneath: A Novel

Cold Snap As Yearning
Copyright © 2001
by Robert Vivian
U of Nebraska P

Whether confronting a gravel road, a hallucinatory vision of a horse-woman, a deep sensitivity to noise, or the curiosity of crows, Robert Vivian sees the world in a novel way, and this collection gives readers the opportunity to share his unique and intriguing vision. Rooted in closely observed objects and situations, these meditative essays expose the strangeness that resides in the familiar, the extraordinary masked by the mundane. A view from deep inside a snow bank, the warfare between a homeless woman and bits of trash, the way a broken toaster becomes a repository of dignityrecognizable topics made new by Vivian's provoking juxtapositions, his compelling use of language, and his transcendent vision of what it means to be human in the twenty-first century. — from the jacket

The vivid essays in Robert Vivian's book Cold Snap as Yearning are all about the eye. He misses nothing of the nothing in his chosen landscape. On these black and white pages, we come to see Nebraska, Omaha, the Midwest in their array of stunning grays as brilliant as any ordinary rainbow." — Michael Martone

In writing both lyrical and probing, Robert Vivian's essays celebrate the divine connections that hold us to this world. Cold Snap as Yearning is a luminous book, a fire burning bright. We should give thanks for its blaze and warmth. — Lee Martin

In playwright Robert Vivian's debut collection of personal essays, an eight-year-old child finds in a snowstorm not a place to play but the void. Kids shoot out church windows to discover what's savage, old women scavenge garbage to make order from chaos, and the commuter parses his highway until it ignites with meaning. Vivian's pentecostal words on the page resemble the crows in snow he calls "the dark hangnails of God." His ordinary subjects pulsate with vision. Readers of this book will take up a luminous way — glad, as I am, to witness the start of a long and exciting career. — Hilda Raz

Each of these vivid essays probes the mystery of encounter, that is, the impermanence of what our five senses tell us, despite the constancy of memory. Each is set in the Midwest, and in each, the author displays his uncanny ability to identify the fading present. Publishers Weekly

With phrases both crystalline and luminous, Vivian clasps onto small moments ... and fleshes them out to their full glory. ... The ravishing simplicity of Vivian's prose is perfectly balanced by the peacock-plumed precision of his metaphors. ... Who knew such allure, beauty, and insight lurked under Nebraska's snowy and stony facade? — Kirkus Reviews

Vivian's writing is consistently poetic in the sense that such care has been taken in assembling every sentence, every phrase, that scarcely a word could be changed without lessening the effect. ... Cold Snap as Yearning is a lovely book, a series of sharply focused lessons in introspection, in being on the outside of the world and looking in, only to discover that by looking closely you have magically passed through the mirror and are, to your pleasure, a part of it all. — Ted Kooser, Lincoln Journal-Star

Lamb Bright Saviors
Copyright © 2009
by Robert Vivian
U of Nebraska P

“Robert Vivian’s prose is lyrical and harrowing—harrowing in the Biblical sense,” Sven Birkerts said of The Mover of Bones, the first book in Vivian's Tall Grass Trilogy. That same lyrical power carries this new volume to a place of hard-won hope and redemption at once both spiritual and earthly.
Lamb Bright Saviors begins as an apocalyptically inclined itinerant preacher staggers across the Nebraska prairie. With his young assistant, Mady, in tow hauling a wagon stacked with bibles, it's not long before the preacher finds he's come to the final fulfillment of his self-proclaimed life's work: to die in front of a group of strangers. Odd as his own end-of-days might be, the lives and struggles of the strangers attending this deathbed scene are even odder. As the dying preacher unleashes a barrage of hallucinatory ramblings and rantings in the hope of imparting wisdom, each ragtag member of this unlikely congregation must reckon with his own dark past. And through it all, the irrepressible Mady lends the preacher's strange performance a surprising and unforgettable dignity and humor. — from the publisher

A brave and profoundly moving novel of faith and forgiveness. A closely observed novel of voices, it speaks the tongues of America's impoverished underbelly and reveals, amid the squalor, mystery, goodness, and salvation. — Douglas Glover, author of Elle and The Life and Times of Captain N

Vivian is a master of the delicately constructed narrative. ... Lamb Bright Saviors explores the relationship of the torments of the present to the mistakes of the past, laying bare the strange twists and turns of our human and inhuman inner lives. — Brian Evenson, author of Altmann's Tongue and The Open Curtain

Even when writing about violence, Vivian's prose glows with an internal light that creates a continual sense of wonder. With its multiple voices and keen sense of place, Lamb Bright Saviors takes those qualities that so defined a writer such as Faulkner and makes them new for a changed world. — Sue William Silverman, author of Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You

The Lamb Bright Saviors of Vivian’s stark latest (after The Mover of Bones) are four damaged man-boys chosen by a terminally ill itinerant preacher named Mr Gene to witness his death at the house of a blind woman in a small Nebraska town they've dubbed Point Blank, “because there's nowhere to hide and nothing to protect you.” Each recounts his own sordid story as they listen to Mr Gene's deathbed rant. Oly lives in the dugout of an abandoned baseball field and dreams of a job as a junior high sports coach. Yarborough, an ex-con, gets bloody revenge on a former fellow inmate before forgiving him. Gus covers his body with tattoos, wanting “to have the imprint of my rage stamped across my skin.” Munoz, back from the war in Iraq, has brought with him the head of a friend killed in combat. Vivian is a latter-day Faulkner set loose with no editorial restraints, so there is no need to suspend your disbelief for this story. You can only go along for the brilliantly written ride, full of sound and fury that signifies little but moves us intensely. — Publishers Weekly

Copyright © 2011
by Robert Vivian
U of Nebraska P

In the tradition of the meditative essay, the writing of Robert Vivian begins with a mundane moment and, through the delicate workings of curiosity, contemplation, and inspiration, reveals unsuspected meaning.
In his second collection of essays Vivian finds his occasions in midwestern towns and European cities. He looks for — and sometimes stumbles upon — the spiritual significance of circumstances and places and those who inhabit them, from the Jewish dead in a long-neglected cemetery in Poland to a dog slaughtered on a highway fronting the Black Sea to gunshots ringing out in rural Michigan. Again and again Vivian probes what such phenomena suggest about the times we live in — and what they share with every time that ever was. — from the publisher

Robert Vivian is a rare gift to readers — a writer whose natural subject is the soul. In his essays, whether his setting is Turkey, Hungary, or the hallway of his Michigan home, Vivian invokes and portrays the rich and startling inner realms of experience of which he is both in trembling awe and utterly unafraid. — Lawrence Sutin, author of When to Go into the Water: A Novel

Robert Vivian is one of the finest, most lyrical essayists of his time, giving voice to an internal life fully engaged with a sensuous external world. Vivian writes with illuminating and potent powers about the startling and shimmering wonder all around us. Whether his subject is eating at a Big Boy in Alma, Michigan, or clearing weeds from a Jewish cemetery in Poland, Vivian’s prose brings us inside moments of surprising beauty, sadness, heartbreak, love, tenderness, longing and, most importantly, hope. — Sue William Silverman, author of Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir

These essays contain some of the finest writing I have ever read. We readers are big mammals. We readers are big mammals. We lumber through life as best we can, leaving so much in our wake unnoticed. Robert Vivian makes up for this shortcoming. He’s got something extra going on, some reflexive seventh sense, which might be called the ability to make sense of the world. Reading these essays, you grow roots, gain dimension; your universe expands. — Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Review of Books

The Mover of Bones
Copyright © 2006
by Robert Vivian
U of Nebraska P

In one hand, Jesse Breedlove holds a bottle of Cuervo Gold — or what's left of it — in the other, the shovel with which he has just unearthed the bones of a small girl buried in the cellar of a Catholic church in Omaha, Nebraska. So begins Breedlove's odyssey across the literal and mythical landscapes of America, bearing the finely articulated body he has uncovered, bones that will neither rest nor, in their restless eloquence, let him remain silent. Through the heart of the United States this mover of bones encounters people who live on the margins, geographically and emotionally, and who find that his presence and his plight summon their voices. Rumors surface and reports and the holy sane speak. From the dark and distant edges of society, they bear witness burden mean.
Defiler, redeemer, sinner, or saint — Breedlove is the stuff myths are made of, and The Mover of Bones, the first of a planned trilogy of novels by the remarkably gifted Robert Vivian, evokes a collective dream of the heartland. — from the publisher

Beautifully, muscularly written. — Jane Hirshfield

Robert Vivian's prose is lyrical and harrowing — harrowing in the Biblical sense. It is as if the killing fields were being irrigated with light. The Mover of Bones is disturbing, a chorus of the damned, but the music can be strangely sweet. — Sven Birkerts

Pitiless, weird story of the travels of a dead girl's bones, from the author of Cold Snap as Yearning (2001). ... Vivian's ability to fully inhabit his characters, to render their voices, their thoughts, their quirks and fears, is flawless. Indeed, the emotional intensity and unrelenting revelations of the interior life of its most banal people are exhausting. This is a Nebraska that would send Poe running for his life. Like the dead girl at its center, this tale is disturbing, horrifying and beautiful all at once. — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Something Is Wrong
Copyright © 1999
by Robert Vivian
First produced
Blue Barn Theater, 1999

The Lied's studio theater space is a good venue for this intense, almost claustrophobic study of dysfunctional family members - the spare set suggesting a vacation house near a lake. ... Though not as harsh as Samuel Beckett, there is something of Harold Pinter here - in the deliberate absurdity, personality confrontations and unbalanced relationships. ... an interesting exercise in theatrical surrealism as odd and dreamlike moments alternate with naturalistic details. The characters are vivid, the acting exemplary. — Jim Delmont, Omaha World-Herald

Water and Abandon
Copyright © 2012
by Robert Vivian
Bison Books

It’s been a year since the body of seventeen-year-old Kelsey Little was found in the river outside Dark Vespers, Nebraska. Although the town may have reached an uneasy equilibrium, those who loved her most have certainly not: Javier Martinez, her troubled ex-boyfriend and the father of the child no one knew she was carrying; Sam and Hank, her parents, whose marriage is coming apart under the pressure of grief and not-knowing; and Ike Parrish, a reclusive eccentric whose clairvoyant “river spells” compel him to come forward with information about Kelsey’s disappearance and death.
A prismatic look at the impact of loss on individual lives, Water and Abandon tells the moving and paradoxical story of those brought together by the very thing that tears them apart. Haunted by Kelsey’s death, each struggles with his or her own demons of blame and guilt, despair and fury — until one, in a confusion of pain, grief, and unrequited love, decides to do something dire. As deeply felt as it is finely crafted, the novel confirms Robert Vivian’s place among the most interesting fiction writers of our day. — from the publisher

Robert Vivian’s new gorgeous, haunting novel — so lyrical, precise, and finely wrought takes us deep into the secret recesses of human life in Dark Vespers, Nebraska, exploring with both grace and power what it is that we can and cannot truly know about one another. — Richard McCann, author of Mother of Sorrows

In prose that is at once lush and startlingly luminous, Robert Vivian’s latest novel lays bare the complexities of loss and grace. Water and Abandon reminds us of the power of language to reveal the mysterious wonders of deeply felt truths. Vivian understands the human heart like few others. — Connie May Fowler, author of How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly

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