Spare and elegant, relentless and gripping, THE BOOK OF ATLANTIS BLACK by Grace Bonner is an absorbing, psychological mystery and proof of sisterly dedication, obsession, and love

by Grace Bonner
Tin House, Fall 2020  

The detective quality of The Book of Atlantis Black is both fascinating and maddening. The pain is right there, but also restrained so that the reader gets to feel/is made to feel something of what it was like for you and your sister and your mother. It is a stunning achievement…and, of course, riveting.” — Amy Hempel, author of Sing to It and Reasons to Live

Grace Bonner had a sister with certain powers: to charm, confound, inspire, infuriate. Grace, the younger sister by two years, would never be the wild sister, the fucked-up sister, the one who named herself after a fictional island for Grace to return to over and over. You see, Nancy Bonner became Atlantis Black because she knew she was born a myth.
In THE BOOK OF ATLANTIS BLACK, Grace Bonner unravels the mystery of her sister and tenderly re-ravels what happened in the final months before her disappearance and alleged overdose and death. Armed with access to all of Atlantis’ email and social media accounts, Grace attempts to decipher and construct a narrative around the circumstances surrounding her plausible death: frantic and unintelligible notes on Facebook, alarming images of Atlantis with a handgun tucked in the waistband of her pants, Craigslist « companionship » ads, video surveillance, art film/faux-snuff footage, police reports (one casually reporting Atlantis’ IDs not matching the deceased body), and various phone calls and moments-in-the-flesh conjured from memory. Through the construction and deconstruction of these materials and the history only she and Atlantis shared, Grace attempts to understand if her sister’s desperation to leave the country and an increasingly dire situation behind proved fruitful or if she died alone in a Mexican motel room wearing a brown “Good Karma” T-shirt. What Grace finds is a confounding contradiction—just as her sister proved in life—questions that lead nowhere or to only more questions, red flags that point in no particular direction, leaving Grace to decide how far she will go to understand a sister she refers to as “my canary, ahead of me in the dark.”

Grace Bonner is a former Director of the 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, where she now teaches poetry. Round Lake, her first collection of poetry, was published by Four Way Books in October 2016. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and a BA from Sarah Lawrence College. She is a MacDowell fellow, and has taught literature and creative writing at the Pierrepont School in Westport, CT and in Paros, Greece. Her poems have appeared in The New Republic, The Paris Review, Parnassus, Poetry Daily, The Southampton Review and in other publications.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email