Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Larque on the Wing

Nancy Springer
Completed 11/20/2016 Reviewed 11/21/2016
4 stars

This is a difficult book to categorize.  I suppose it qualifies as magical realism, although I’m not an expert on that genre.  At the very least, it’s a fantasy about a woman with some magical abilities.  It won the Tiptree award which honors SF/F books which deal with gender issues.  It’s highly deserving.  This is perhaps one of the most creative ways of exploring gender issues that I’ve read in a long time. 

The story is about Larque, a 40-something year old woman with a husband and three sons who has the ability to make doppelgangers of herself and others.  She has made one of her 10-year old self that is causing trouble.  On top of that, she’s come across a hidden part of town where she gets a makeover into a sexy young gay man.  To make things even more complicated, Larque’s mother can blink away things she doesn’t like or blink them into forms she finds more pleasing.  By the middle of the book, there are three versions of Larque running around, the 10 year old, the gay man, and a plastic, soulless, virtuous woman.  Larque’s existential question is to either remain a gay man, or integrate all her selves back into one middle aged woman and reconcile the life she wanted for herself with the life she has.

It’s a complicated premise, and Springer did a terrific job of creating an understandable plot despite the complexity of the doppelgangers and the blinking mother.  The mother reminded me of Dolores Umbrage from the Harry Potter series, evil wrapped in a compact package, ignoring pleas for love and understanding so that she can see the world how she wants to see it.  It’s all both funny and frightening. 

There is a much referenced quote that I’d like to quote as well:  “Dimly, with her burning heart more than her mind, she began to understand why she had always liked gay men. They suffered, were persecuted, they were outsiders in a world where studbuck male heteros held all the power, they did not count, they were Other – the way women were.”  This quote speaks so perfectly to both women and gay men, on how we experience the world, as the Other.  And the timing of reading this quote in this book, when current events demonstrate how much the white male heteros are trying to hold onto all the power, was just perfect for me.

My only complaint with the book was that the 10-year old Sky was often too whiney.  I think she was supposed to be.  After all, she was supposed to be 10 and un-nurtured.  But it got to me after a while, and I felt distracted by Sky rather than feeling like she was integral to the story.  It all makes sense and comes together in the end, but her journey was just a little too annoying. 

I give this book four out of five stars.  I found it to be a refreshing piece of fantasy, or magical realism, or perhaps we could call it suburban fantasy.  It came real close to being five stars, but the annoying Sky character broke my love affair with the book.  I highly recommend it though for anyone who feels powerless, has unreconciled aspects of themselves, or feels unsatisfied with where they ended up in their lives.  

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