A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW EDITORS' CHOICE
An exuberant, wildly inventive debut about a young woman fascinated by her ancestors' legendary "falling curse" and trying to keep her own family from falling apart.
Marta and her twin brother Nick have always been haunted and fascinated by an ancestral legend that holds that members of their family are doomed to various types of falls. And when their own family collapses in the wake of a revelation and a resulting devastating fight with their Catholic mother, the twins move to Prague, the city in which their “falling curse” began. There, Marta and Nick try to forge a new life for themselves. But their ties to the past and each other prove difficult to disentangle, and when they ultimately return to their midwestern home and Nick falls from a balcony himself, Marta is forced to confront the truths they've hidden from each other and themselves.
Ingeniously and unforgettably narrated by Marta as she reflects on all the ways there are to fall--from defenestration in nineteenth century Prague to the pratfalls of her childhood idol Buster Keaton, from falling in love to falling midflight from an airplane--Defenestrate is a deeply original, gorgeous novel about the power of stories and the strange, malleable bonds that hold families together.
About the Author
Renée Branum has an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana and an MFA in Fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop where she was a Truman Capote Fellow. Her work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Narrative Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, Brevity, Alaska Quarterly Review, and Best American Nonrequired Reading, among others. She was a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Prose Fellowship in 2020. She currently lives in Cincinnati, where she is pursuing a PhD in Fiction.
“Stylish, shimmering . . . In a feat of literary archery, Branum’s lyrical prose hits its mark again and again . . . Evocative passages stud the novel like diamonds. The story cuts back and forth, brimming with suspense. It’s always a joy to see a writer dig confidently into her gifts, as Branum does in Defenestrate. Her characters may fear falling, but this novel soars.” - The Washington Post
“Branum is a taut storyteller who reveals and confides with great skill, in a narrative composed of addictive passages rather than conventional chapters . . . This hypnotic and philosophical debut considers the act of defenestration as something more profound than an accident or a mere unfortunate end. Through the lens of memory, Branum refracts the layers of truth, tragedy and faith that break a cycle of lives most at home in free fall.” - New York Times Book Review
“Sparkling . . . an original and engaging novel from a fresh new voice.” - The Guardian
“A beautifully structured work about ancestry, siblinghood, vulnerability and fear . . . Branum confronts existential questions with bold, clean prose that swings between gravity and deflection.” - Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Excellent . . . A serious story, luminously told.” - Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Quirky and poignant . . . the collage of striking scenes and reflections offers frequent delights. Readers willing to go out on a limb will find much to savor.” - Publishers Weekly
“Written in sweeping prose rife with allegory (many unbelievable real-life falls told here), Branum's first novel is an honest, beautiful tale of fierce sibling love.” - Booklist
“Lyrical and lovely and slyly funny, yet deceptively propulsive. One to stay up all night reading and immediately begin again.” - Literary Hub's Most Anticipated List of the Year
“Odd, lyrical and gorgeous . . . Evocative of Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists, Branum’s novel is a magical realist family fable, an allegory about the heaviness of history and the lightness of dropping.” - The Millions, Most Anticipated Book of 2022
“Defenestrate is impressively powerful. On page after page, Renée Branum manages to entwine the tall tales that shape all families with the real-world fallout those tales can cause. She also does a masterful job of rendering the sensation of falling, of spiraling in the air. The effect, like the novel itself, is spellbinding.” - Washington Independent Review of Books
“Gorgeously written and imaginative, Defenestrate is a beautiful novel about the family stories we tell and how they echo on through generations. Rich and intimate, this novel will stay with me.” - Annie Hartnett, author of RABBIT CAKE and LITTLE ANIMALS
“Renée Branum writes with exceptional wisdom and tenderness about inheritance, obsession, and the power of storytelling as a means of understanding who we are. As family secrets are revealed, Defenestrate builds to a symphonic, exhilarating end that embraces uncertainty alongside the miracle of surviving the greatest of falls.” - Sanaë Lemoine, author of THE MARGOT AFFAIR
“Branum‘s prose lights up the imagination, every line a discovery and a pleasure. Beyond simple elegance or precision, she weaves sense and simile so stunningly, you have to throw your hands up and say “damn!” Defenestrate is both a transporting story, and a poetic reflection on family myths, death and danger, creation, self preservation, and the great free-fall of life. I was constantly thrilled by the beauty and insight of her words, and, at the same time, ever on the precipice of that titular drop, the one that’s always just about to happen, the one we all know from childhood dreams.” - Dina Nayeri, author of THE UNGRATEFUL REFUGEE and REFUGE
“Renée Branum writes with great insight about the complex ways our sense of ourselves is unavoidably shaped by family. She is a storyteller of unique talent, wit and perception about the intricate details of the human experience.” - Ladee Hubbard, author of THE RIB KING
“The wonders of this beautiful novel come to you the way ghosts do, almost invisibly, and from the past. The voice is haunted too, by family secrets, the history of Prague, an addiction, and much else. But its central subject is that of falling--and everything that falling can imply. This is a fine and wonderful book.” - Charles Baxter, author of THE SUN COLLECTIVE
"Renée Branum is a weaver of light, a writer of extraordinary sensitivity and insight. Her obsessions are contagious, and her prose is electric." - Karen Russell, author of Sleep Donation and Swamplandia!