Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce

“Once upon a time. . .”

“. . . and they lived happily ever after. The end”

With these classic lines, we’re either talking about fairy tales or romances. It is not quite either. This is the story that comes after the supposed happily-ever-after, and the fairy tale world draws on older and darker folklore, more akin to Grimm’s fairy tales and the Mabinogion.

The story begins as a family’s living nightmare when teenager, Tara Martin, inexplicably disappears. Her family cannot find any trace of her, and Tara’s boyfriend is blamed for her disappearance. Eventually, everyone moves on with their own lives. After twenty years pass, Tara returns home, barely aged in her absence. It should be a miracle, a dream come true, and a happily-ever-after ending to the tragic scenario, but it is only the beginning of this tale, especially with Tara insisting she spent only six months in the world of the fairies.

It seems fitting to call this literary fantasy. The lyrical and eloquent writing itself sets this book apart from typical fantasy. For all the magic and fairies present, there is no adventure, magic wands and tricks, or quest with heroes. Drawing from older traditions, it is an understated magic that is less about escapism but about making reality more vivid and real. Set in the real world and present day, it is Tara’s word against what is normal and expected. What follows is a rather realistic, very human, and, at times, heartbreaking account of the rehashing of old hurts, attempts to reconcile past and present, and efforts to make sense of the unbelievable.

The book becomes a fascinating character study. Tara is the mystery that the others try to solve. It is a jarring experience between memory and what is before their eyes. Readers see through the eyes of her therapist, her brother and his wife, and even Tara’s boyfriend--Outsiders and insiders, all trying to understand Tara and her outrageous-sounding claims. This multi-layered story is a Rip Van Winkle, Urashima Tarō, and Oisin but set in contemporary times with present-day attitudes. It is not only about truth, what happened, and even Tara herself but also about how people see things.

Look for Some Kind of Fairy Tale on the VBPL Catalog. For more of Graham Joyce’s blending of magic into the everyday, real world, try How to Make Friends with Demons or Limits of Enchantment. Try Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan for fairy tales gone wrong.

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