A debut novel and a collection of previously printed short stories — not what I was expecting for my third and fourth favorite books read in 2012!
Carol Rifka Brunt has crafted a beautifully, sad, coming-of-age tale about fourteen-year-old June Elbus, her older sister Greta, and her Uncle Finn. Set in the early 1980’s, June’s world is rocked when her beloved Uncle dies of complications from AIDS. Recent changes in her relationship with Greta have made June believe that Finn was truly the only person to understand her. Enter the mysterious Toby, much maligned by the rest of her family, June finds in Toby a potential kindred spirit and someone from whom she can at the very least, learn more about Finn’s life.
Brunt masterfully negotiates the twists and turns of adolescence, while adding an additional layer of adult, emotional trauma in a story that is both powerful and incredibly moving. It also demonstrates just how far we’ve come as a society since the early 80’s, with regard to AIDS. Yet at the same time, some of the themes Brunt explores would still be scandalous in today’s world, which is a shame. This is a terrific debut novel, and I highly recommend it.
I was thrilled when I found out there was a new Patricia McKillip book recently released; then mildly disappointed when I found out it was a collection of previously published short stories. Not that I had read any of the stories yet, but generally, I enjoy McKillip’s novels more than her short stories.
Much to my surprise, the stories in Wonders of the Invisible World were truly wonders, and rose to the heights of some of McKillip’s best writing. This gifted artist paints literary landscapes across my heart and mind whether the setting be Puritan New England, a mysterious village in the woods, or an underwater realm. She snaps characters to life with the turn of a phrase, a phrase that seems familiar in the fantasy context, yet is at once strikingly original.
There is a lot of water imagery in this collection, which delighted me. I can’t recall many of her novels featuring the magic of water, and she writes it beautifully. I would love to see an entire novel devoted to the characters and setting of ‘Knight of the Well,’ or ‘The Kelpie.’
McKillip doesn’t just stick with fantasy in this collection either, but dips her hand into science fiction, as with the time travelling researcher in the title story, ‘Wonders of the Invisible World.’
It was nice to see some of McKillip’s less seen humor creep into several of these stories. While her creation and depiction of fantasy realms is the strongest weapon in her literary arsenal, this collection shows off the prodigious talent in her juxtaposition of fantasy with the modern world. And as is now to be expected, her stellar command of language shines through in this magnificent collection.