Winter fiction takes a magical turn
At BookPage, we know there’s no better solution to beating the winter blues than escaping into the pages of a magical piece of fiction. So this month we’re spotlighting works by three visionary writers who take experimental approaches to storytelling. Employing elements of fairy tale and fantasy, these authors dispense with the principles of science, turn history on its head and redefine reality—and they make it all seem believable. So suspend your skepticism, dear reader, and get set for an adventure. A little old-fashioned enchantment is the perfect way to keep January’s chill at bay.
Alice, out of wonderland
Although it’s been a almost a century and a half since her first appearance in print, Alice Liddell, the adventuresome girl who provided Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) with the inspiration to write Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, remains a source of fascination for many a bibliophile. Melanie Benjamin uses her true story as a springboard in Alice I Have Been, her beguiling new novel. Fleshing out historical facts with fictional details to create a full-bodied portrait of Carroll’s heroine, Benjamin traces the arc of Alice’s life, portraying with authority her evolution from a high-strung youngster into a refined wife and mother.
In her 80s when the novel begins, Alice looks back on her past and serves as a lively, wry narrator. Among her memories are the days the Liddell family spent with Dodgson, the picnics and explorations they shared, and the eventual—and controversial—distance that developed between them. The novel passes effortlessly through various eras, moving from the 1930s to Victorian times and back again, and it’s during her mature years that Alice discloses her impatience with fame. The recognition brought to her as a literary character has proven burdensome, and in the end, she feels confined by the role that will ultimately immortalize her. This is an ingenious expansion of Alice’s story, convincingly conceived and meticulously crafted, a delightful bit of literary sleight of hand by Benjamin.
Adventures in time travel
Blending fantasy, history and mystery, Matthew Flaming offers an intoxicating mix of genres in The Kingdom of Ohio, his bold and inventive debut. The novel’s protagonist, a silver miner from Idaho named Peter Force, arrives in New York in 1901 and takes a job excavating tunnels for the city’s incipient subways. Not long after his arrival in Manhattan, he meets the mysterious Cheri-Anne Toledo, who tells him about a forgotten place called the Kingdom of Ohio and insists that she’s the daughter of its monarch. In Ohio, Cheri-Anne claims, she collaborated with the engineer Nikola Tesla on an apparatus that has, in a cosmic accident, carried her into the future and deposited her in New York. Peter doesn’t believe her at first, but when he and Cheri-Anne get caught up in a scheme that’s linked to Thomas Edison and J.P. Morgan, he realizes that she may indeed come from another realm—and possess knowledge that could change the course of history. Flaming examines big issues in this book—questions about the nature of reality and the ways in which technology has altered daily life—and his explorations give the narrative a rich thematic foundation. A spirited tale that channels the energy and verve of old New York, Flaming’s novel is fresh, artful and full of surprises.
A frosty fairy tale
Ali Shaw brings an uncommon world into being with his debut The Girl with Glass Feet. Set on a wintry archipelago called St. Hauda’s Land, a distant group of islands where albino beasts inhabit frost-encrusted forests and nature asserts itself in strange ways, the narrative focuses on delicate, melancholy Ida Maclaird. After visiting the archipelago, Ida finds that her body—feet first—is turning gradually into glass. Searching for a way to end this awful metamorphosis, she leaves her home on the mainland and returns to the islands, where she meets an introverted native named Midas Crook. Crook works in a florist shop and takes photographs, and he has a cold, hard exterior of his own. But after he meets Ida, he softens, and the quest to arrest her terrible transformation soon consumes him. Ida’s salvation rests in the hands of the reclusive Henry Fuwa, who knows secrets about St. Hauda’s Land. As Midas and Ida search for Henry—and as Ida’s mutation continues—the two find themselves in a race against time.
Written in the tradition of magical realists like Haruki Murakami and Gabriel García Márquez, The Girl with Glass Feet is a singular, slippery narrative that defies easy categorization. Shaw writes finely honed prose and knows how to wring maximum suspense out of a tightly woven plot. His is an accomplished first novel—a hypnotic book with an atmosphere all its own.