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May 1999
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
Jerry Oltion
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

Cliff Street Books/HarperCollins, 1999; $13.00

Many columns back we discussed Swain Wolfe's first novel, The Woman Who Lives in the Earth, a gentle, secondary world fantasy that would not have been amiss sitting on a bookshelf beside Patricia McKillip's work. This time out Wolfe tells a more contemporary story of a Boston career woman returning to her childhood home where she hopes to regain the sense that there is a purpose to life, a feeling she once had as a young woman, but has since lost.

The childhood home is by a lake in Montana where her grandmother still lives, and for the first few pages we get to see them awkwardly interact with each other in this rambling old house, filled with so many magazines and newspapers that it makes simple navigation somewhat of a chore. But while this is an important aspect to the novel, the main meat of the tale--and what's told at much longer length--is of a post-World War II romance between Rose, a waitress who has returned to the lake to care for the local Native woman who raised her, and Cody, a drifting handyman and painter.

The sections detailing Rose and Cody's relationship, their schemes to make some money, how they deal with the increasing hostility to their relationship by both the townspeople and that of the local Natives, as well as Wolfe's depictions of the honest, but hard-working poor, reminded me of Steinbeck's Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday (a good thing, since they're a pair of my all-time favorite books). But added to the quirkiness of people living in their cars, and schemes going terribly awry, is a magical element as well.

There is a snake named Loneliness living in the bottom of the lake. Rose used to talk to crows, and got answers. The lake is set on fire, literally and figuratively. In short, mythologies and old beliefs rise up through the sensible prose to wash over the real world. The final scene in Rose and Cody's story is pure magic, but I don't want to say any more than that for fear of spoiling it for those of you who might go on to read the novel.

And what of that Boston career woman and her grandmother? Their story ties into the old in a manner at once expected, but no less satisfying for that.

This is a deep, lyric book, with many layers, characters you'll fall in love with, and scenes that will remain with you for a very long time. It proves that the shimmering beauty of The Woman Who Lives in the Earth was no fluke and makes me eagerly look forward to what Wolfe will offer to us next.

*     *     *
THE HIGH HOUSE, by James Stoddard
Warner, 1998; $6.50

This book came to my box, not from the publisher, but courtesy of a reader of this column in Cincinnati who also works in a bookstore. I'll admit to being dubious of his enthusiastic recommendation (I get a lot of books send to me with enthusiastic recommendations attached), but it turned out my correspondent had come upon a real treasure. My first clue was the warm reference to Lin Carter's Sign of the Unicorn imprint for Ballantine, immediately followed by a George MacDonald epigraph, references to William Morris, Lord Dunsany and the like in the text, a character named after William Hope Hodgson . . .

In other words, here we have a fantasy inspired, not by Tolkien and his legion of clones, but by some of the other pioneering fantasists who are largely ignored today: the above mentioned, along with James Branch Cabell, Mervyn Peake, and E. R. Eddison, to name only a few. And when I say "inspired," I don't mean slavishly imitating, but rather inspired in the best sense of the word. A tip of the hat here, a sly reference there, not to mention ably taking up the challenge of giving readers an original story with all the sense of wonder so many of us first found in the work of those earlier writers.

There has never been a house such as that of the book's title--a vast, sprawling edifice that is so large, different areas have their own weather, climate, fauna and such. In short, a world of a house. To it, after years of absence, comes Carter Anderson, son of the house's Master, summoned to take up the mantle of Steward after his father's disappearance.

More than anything, Anderson wants to find his father, but Anarchists (led by a faceless man who most often appears dressed as an English Bobby) have other plans and Anderson finds himself defending the house against their attacks. Then there's the problem of an evil stepmother and her son, a dragon in one of the attics, feral furniture, and the fact that the house appears to be the world in microcosm--by which I mean, if the house is in good repair, than so is the greater world beyond its doors, but if the lamps aren't all lit, the clocks not all wound, it has dire consequences for both the house and our world.

James Stoddard writes with an assurance that belies the fact that this is only his first novel. His characters are warm and engaging, his High House a constant delight (and really, as much of a character as any of those more mobile), and best of all, one never quite knows where the story is going-and that's something of a rarity in what's marketed as fantasy novels these days. Yes, there are expected elements, but they are things we want to have happen, so they're not disappointments; for the most part, the novel remains a constant surprise and delight right to the end.

Without question, The High House is one of my favorite books of the year, as much for reminding me what it was that I loved about fantasy novels in the first place as for its own merits. Now I'm going to go back and reread some classics (which is what I remember doing before the proliferation of sequels and prequels came to swell the shelves of bookstores).

*     *     *
THE PRINCESS BRIDE, by William Goldman
Ballantine, 1998; $24.95

And speaking of classics, one could do worse than reread this hilarious novel by William Goldman, his "good parts" version of "S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure." If you've only seen the film, do yourself a favor and read the original text which is even better than what later provided the script for a very fine movie.

This 25th anniversary edition lacks the original colored text of the original hardcover (Goldman's insertions were in red ink, rather than italics), but it makes up for that by including the first chapter of the "long-lost sequel, Buttercup's Baby," as well as Goldman's explanation as to how he only got to write one chapter of the sequel, rather than the whole book itself. (Until I read the latter, I'd never known that Stephen King could speak Florinese, little say translate a book's worth of text into English . . but I digress.)

For those of you unfamiliar with The Princess Bride in either of its incarnations, the novel purports to have its basis in a book that Goldman's father read to him when he was a child. Later, when he was able to read it on his own, Goldman was shocked to find it to be a long, dull book . . . unless one only read the "good parts" as his father had done to him. So, in the spirit of good storytelling, he was kind enough to edit a similar version for us.

What's perhaps surprising about a farce such as this is that the actual story is as good as the jokes are funny: sweet, tender, adventurous, and yes, humorous. If you've never read it before, you're in for a real treat.

*     *     *
Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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