ABC (Hardcover)

By David Plante

Pantheon, 9780375424618, 272pp.

Publication Date: August 21, 2007



From the critically acclaimed author of more than a dozen novels comes a luminous and haunting story about grief and obsession, and about the need for meaning at the center of all of our lives.

In ABC’s unforgettable opening scene, Gerard, Peggy, and their 6-year-old son Harry are canoeing in a New Hampshire cove and come upon an abandoned wreck of a house they have observed for years but never entered. When Harry presses his parents to let him go and explore, Gerard follows him in and watches in horror as a freak accident he is powerless to stop unfolds before him, and a summer family idyll becomes, in an incalculable instant, the beginning of unbearable anguish.

Moments before Harry died, Gerard had picked up a crumpled piece of paper with letters of an unknown alphabet, which he later learns is Sanskrit. In the weeks following the accident he becomes obsessed with the origins of Indo-European alphabets, his fascination growing as boundless as his grief--and soon taking its place. Now, in pursuit of the story of the alphabet, he leaves his home, Peggy, his teaching job, and bands together with other grief-stricken “abecedarians” who believe that the alphabet as we know it had in its origins a meaning they are intent on uncovering. Their quest takes them to England, Greece, and finally, to an ancient site in the Syrian desert where the alphabet was incised on clay tablets some 4000 years ago. Yet what Gerard seeks is something beyond historical knowledge, and his journey itself has a meaning only revealed to him at its end.

A signally original and radiant novel, ABC illuminates the mysteries human life is full of, both in its horror and its joy.

Praise For ABC

"The Plante focus is narrow and sharp, like a blazing spot on a vast darkened stage... It is beautiful. How can love, hate, cherishing, rejection, pity, and broken promises all coexist without canceling each other out? Such mysteries are at the heart of the family bonds David Plante celebrates; like the religious faith that frames this remarkable novel, they transcend analysis."

"Plante has created one of the most harrowing of contemporary novels."
--Philip Roth

"Haunting... A book that belies its slenderness. A great reckoning in a little room."
--Bernard Levin, The Sunday Times (London)

"Plante is a powerful writer... capable of locking the reader in the mute, chest-crunching hug of inarticulate family love."
--Robert Towers, The New York Review of Books

"Stark and powerful."
--John Lancaster, London Review of Books

"A masterpiece of simple prose about simple surfaces."
--Philadelphia Daily News

"A powerful, courageous, curiously invigorating work."
--Margaret Drabble

"One of the most necessary and resonant novelists of his generation."
--Peter Straub