Book cover of Cloud Chamber

Cloud Chamber

by Michael Dorris

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Pages: 320
Paperback
ISBN: 9780684835358






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Overview of Cloud Chamber

Ten years after his "dazzling" (San Francisco Chronicle), "unforgettable" (Newsday) bestselling debut novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris returns to the family at the core of that work to write the rich score of the "full-blown, complex opera of his new novel, Cloud Chamber" (Robb Forman Dew).

Opening in late-nineteenth-century Ireland and moving to Kentucky and finally to the high plains of Montana, Cloud Chamber tells the extraordinary tale of Rose Mannion and her descendants. Over a period of more than one hundred years, Rose's legacy of love and betrayal is passed down from generation to generation until it meets the promise of reconciliation in Rayona, the indomitable part-black, part Native American teenage girl at the center of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.

Cloud Chamber is truly a tour de force, a powerful, rich tale about the energy and persistence of love.

Synopsis of Cloud Chamber

Ten years after his "dazzling" (San Francisco Chronicle), "unforgettable" (Newsday) bestselling debut novel, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Michael Dorris returns to the family at the core of that work to write the rich score of the "full-blown, complex opera of his new novel, Cloud Chamber" (Robb Forman Dew).

Opening in late-nineteenth-century Ireland and moving to Kentucky and finally to the high plains of Montana, Cloud Chamber tells the extraordinary tale of Rose Mannion and her descendants. Over a period of more than one hundred years, Rose's legacy of love and betrayal is passed down from generation to generation until it meets the promise of reconciliation in Rayona, the indomitable part-black, part Native American teenage girl at the center of A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.

Cloud Chamber is truly a tour de force, a powerful, rich tale about the energy and persistence of love.

Elizabeth Judd

Cloud Chamber attempts to cash in on the winning formula that Michael Dorris established in his bestselling A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. It's similar to the one that runs through the novels of his sometime writing partner, Louise Erdrich. Once again, Dorris tells the story of a mixed-race family via a succession of strong-willed, eccentric-but-supposedly-loveable first-person narrators. Leaving nothing to chance, Dorris even resurrects Rayona Taylor, the popular heroine of A Yellow Raft. Dorris' shameless reliance on formula is irritating, and I found myself vowing to resist the familiar charms of Cloud Chamber. By the halfway point, however, I'd succumbed; no new literary ground is broken here, but Cloud Chamber kept me turning the pages.

Dorris needs just five degrees of separation in his case, five generations within one family to carry us from Rose Mannion, a nineteenth-century Irish girl who flees to America after betraying her turncoat lover, to Rayona Taylor, a part-black teenager who was raised on an American Indian reservation and now works at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dorris isn't coy about his central message: No matter how racially or temperamentally different family members may seem, they reflect and refract a shared history and character worth preserving. When Rayona is given a cut-glass vase of Galway crystal that once belonged to Rose Mannion, Rayona sees in it "a thousand faces, each different from the rest." Lest anyone miss the point, Dorris bombards the reader with this crystal vessel metaphor invoking it on the first and last pages to represent family heritage as fragile and multi-faceted.

Cloud Chamber doesn't venture into original territory until Dorris introduces Rayona's maiden great-aunt Edna McGarry. Edna is an unassuming supporting player who's istinguished by the depth of her insight and the intensity of her loyalty and love. Lacking the exotic history or flamboyant personality of the typical Dorris heroine, Edna is the prime mover that quietly keeps the family together. It is Edna who Rayona identifies with and who prompts Rayona to realize that "being a family is a voluntary duty. We're none of us here against our will." Although Edna is nobody's idea of an electrifying character, her appearance elevates otherwise tepid material into something far more nuanced and surprising. Ultimately, Dorris wins you over only when he deviates from his trusty formula. -- Salon

About the Author, Michael Dorris

Michael Dorris'sadult fiction includes A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, The Crown of Columbus, coauthored with Louise Erdrich, and the story collection Working Men. Among his nonfiction works are The Broken Cord, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and a collection of essays, Paper Trail. His most recent work of children's literature is The Window.

Reviews of Cloud Chamber

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Editorials

Elizabeth Judd

Cloud Chamber attempts to cash in on the winning formula that Michael Dorris established in his bestselling A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. It's similar to the one that runs through the novels of his sometime writing partner, Louise Erdrich. Once again, Dorris tells the story of a mixed-race family via a succession of strong-willed, eccentric-but-supposedly-loveable first-person narrators. Leaving nothing to chance, Dorris even resurrects Rayona Taylor, the popular heroine of A Yellow Raft. Dorris' shameless reliance on formula is irritating, and I found myself vowing to resist the familiar charms of Cloud Chamber. By the halfway point, however, I'd succumbed; no new literary ground is broken here, but Cloud Chamber kept me turning the pages.

Dorris needs just five degrees of separation — in his case, five generations within one family — to carry us from Rose Mannion, a nineteenth-century Irish girl who flees to America after betraying her turncoat lover, to Rayona Taylor, a part-black teenager who was raised on an American Indian reservation and now works at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dorris isn't coy about his central message: No matter how racially or temperamentally different family members may seem, they reflect and refract a shared history and character worth preserving. When Rayona is given a cut-glass vase of Galway crystal that once belonged to Rose Mannion, Rayona sees in it "a thousand faces, each different from the rest." Lest anyone miss the point, Dorris bombards the reader with this crystal vessel metaphor — invoking it on the first and last pages — to represent family heritage as fragile and multi-faceted.

Cloud Chamber doesn't venture into original territory until Dorris introduces Rayona's maiden great-aunt Edna McGarry. Edna is an unassuming supporting player who's istinguished by the depth of her insight and the intensity of her loyalty and love. Lacking the exotic history or flamboyant personality of the typical Dorris heroine, Edna is the prime mover that quietly keeps the family together. It is Edna who Rayona identifies with and who prompts Rayona to realize that "being a family is a voluntary duty. We're none of us here against our will." Although Edna is nobody's idea of an electrifying character, her appearance elevates otherwise tepid material into something far more nuanced and surprising. Ultimately, Dorris wins you over only when he deviates from his trusty formula. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

Broadening his canvas and his historical sweep in this memorable and quietly moving novel, Dorris braids the voices and histories of selected members of five generations descended from a raven-haired hellion named Rose Mannion, who flees Ireland for Kentucky. Among her descendants is her great-great-granddaughter Rayona, a half-black and half-Indian girl readers will remember from A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. Dorris's evocative prose gathers strength and clarity as he moves to the second generation and into the rich vein of his multifaceted exploration of what it is to be part of a family. He captures the fierce Irish bitterness of two controlling women: Rose and her daughter-in-law, Bridie, who marries Rose's son Robert even though she's in love with Rose's favorite, Andy. Robert and Bridie's two daughters, Edna and Marcella, who witness their father's financial and physical ruination and must battle TB, which they contract from him, are lifelong safe havens for each other. Marcella falls in love with a black man, but she loses him after they marry, and her son, Elgin, is raised among the white community. A grown Elgin keeps his white family separated from his Indian wife and daughter (Rayona) until after the wife's death. Dorris brings the strands of his narrative together in a deft conclusion-a naming ceremony, in which Rayona takes Rose's name, and in which we see the youngest member tenderly managing three disparate generations and loving them all in her own intrepid way. Thus Dorris provides a moving and persuasive image of a reconciliation for which America still yearns. (Jan.)

Library Journal

Multitalented Dorris, justly praised for his recent short story collection, Working Men (LJ 9/1/93), and for his nonfiction The Broken Cord (LJ 7/89), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, returns to long fiction with a strong novel of family in America. In a time when our country's cultural diversity is often reduced to buzzwords, Dorris brings it to moving, sometimes startling life with the complex McGarrys, who relate their story in an absorbing variety of first-person narratives. From matriarch Rose Mannion, running scared and desperate from Ireland in the 1800s, to her mixed-race descendants in America today, the men and women in this tale speak with thoroughly convincing and utterly individual voices as they illuminate the passion, anger, and love linking them together. (One link reaches from Kentucky to Montana, where readers familiar with Dorris's A Yellow Raft In Blue Water will be pleased to reunite with vibrant young Rayona Taylor from that 1987 novel.) Altogether, this is a fine book whose literary excellence is matched by its accessibility to general readers and young adults. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/1/96.]-Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va.

Pam Houston

Michael Dorris's new novel confirms that…he is one of the true masters of voice, of character and of storytelling in contemporary American literature.
—Los Angeles Times

Sandra Scofield

A thoroughly absorbing novel remarkable for its lyricism, compassion, humor and thumping good story, all characteristics one has come to expect of the author's work. To my mind, Cloud Chamber is his best yet.
—Chicago Tribune

Colleen Warren

Dorris is a wonderful writer—in turn poignant, lyrical and hilarious….His characters emerge with all the fullness and complexities of real people, with pasts to draw from and futures to be imagined.
—St. Louis Post—Dispatch

Valerie Sayers

Evocative and powerful…a clear, high note of hope.
—The New York Times Book Review

Alice McDermott

The book's distinction is its vivid, intelligent portrayal of our perpetual, universal and most inextinguishable longing for both transcendence and—here's the rub—communion in love.
—The Washington Post

Kirkus Reviews

Dorris's first solo novel in almost a decade is a partial prequel to his successful A Yellow Raft in Blue Water (1987), and a generational saga that celebrates the enduring power of family ties.

It begins in western Ireland in the mid-19th century, with Rose Mannion's struggle to choose between the charismatic lover who has betrayed "the Cause" (of Irish independence) and the decent man her family and townspeople urge her to prefer. A half-century later, Rose's sons Andrew (a priest) and Robert are the two halves of a dilemma that frustrates Robert's dissatisfied wife Bridie (a terrific character: hard as nails, yet helplessly in thrall to the one man she cannot have). The story moves ahead with scarcely credible speed (a major flaw in Dorris's otherwise efficiently constructed narrative) to the 1930s when Robert, recovering from illness and amnesia, makes the reacquaintance of Bridie and their daughters Edna and Marcella, in the American Midwest, to which the family has been rather summarily transplanted. The novel finds its footing in a beautifully detailed and extended contrast between Edna's stoical common sense and Marcella's somewhat flighty romantic nature—expressed in the ailing Marcella's impulsive marriage to a handsome young black man she meets while recuperating in the sanitarium where Edna works as a nurse's aid. The focus then shifts to Marcella's son Elgin, his Army experiences in Germany in the 1960s (during which he learns some disturbing truths about his father's reported death in wartime), and thereafter to Elgin's daughter Rayona (a major character in Yellow Raft). Though it's all a teensy bit contrived and too hurried to be fully convincing, the tale is gripping, thanks to Dorris's empathy for the ethnic diversity and solidarity that give his characters their strength, and to a skillfully varied succession of voices, all quite distinctive.

A little of John O'Hara, and rather more of A.J. Cronin, here, but the story's details will draw you in and keep you reading.

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