The stories in A Better Angel describe the terrain of human suffering—illness, regret, mourning, sympathy—in the most unusual of ways. In “Stab,” a bereaved twin starts a friendship with a homicidal fifth grader in the hope that she can somehow lead him back to his dead brother. In “Why Antichrist?” a boy tries to contact the spirit of his dead father and finds himself talking to the Devil instead. In the remarkable title story, a ne’er do well pediatrician returns home to take care of his dying father, all the while under the scrutiny of an easily-disappointed heavenly agent.
With Gob’s Grief and The Children’s Hospital, Chris Adrian announced himself as a writer of rare talent and originality. The stories in A Better Angel, some of which have appeared in The New Yorker, Tin House, and McSweeney’s, demonstrate more of his endless inventiveness and wit, and they confirm his growing reputation as a most exciting and unusual literary voice—of heartbreaking, magical, and darkly comic tales.
Chris Adrian s writing wants to alter the worldview of his readers; like a drug, it enters one s veins, seeps into the area of the brain that houses the conscience, and attempts to remove any traces of the sappy sensitivity that so often infiltrates conversations about illnesses physical and psychological. If that sounds like a lofty goal for a writer not yet 40, consider his other achievements: Adrian received an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, then went to medical school. After working as an emergency room physician, specializing in pediatrics, he began divinity school at Harvard. Such a steeping in the blood, guts, and soul of humanity bestows upon his cynicism an undisputable authority. He has seen us at our lowest and our worst.