Now you see it

What happens when pain becomes visible, when both small hurts and major illnesses shine like stars or supernovas? When anyone who looks at you can see you ache, from the dull shine of arthritic joints to the luminous spikes of a migraine? Would we become more compassionate? Kevin Brockmeier’s latest novel, The Illumination, posits just such a strange situation—one that alters the triage protocols in a local hospital and makes it impossible to deny either cancer or depression—and, like his previous work, the story itself is luminous. Brockmeier might technically write “science” or “speculative” fiction because of the premise, but this is a literary novel in every sense of the word. The interconnected stories of people who come into contact with each other through their pain form the novel’s plot, but its theme is quite simple: Pain is real, whether you can see it or not.