Through the Prism

After passing through the prism, each refraction contains some pure essence of the light, but only an incomplete part. We will always experience some aspect of reality, of the Truth, but only from our perspectives as they are colored by who and where we are. Others will know a different color and none will see the whole, complete light. These are my musings from my particular refraction.

9.28.2016

A Trilogy of Mysterious Reviews

We are,
even to ourselves,
even as we
embody our emotions
and enjoy engaging in
pursuit of self-understanding,
largely unknowable mysteries.


I just finished what I consider to be a rather remarkable trilogy. Since, I believe, my reviews of the three books largely speak for themselves, I'll simply share them below.


The Riverman

This is a mystery book. But is it a fantasy book? That's the mystery. It's certainly a bit horror, creepy and gripping. Someone bad is out there, coming for children, someone called the Riverman. So is the Riverman a magical predator invading a magical land of imagination and stories or a metaphor for someone very real and too horrifying to name directly? Alistair thinks he knows the answer . . . but. But, maybe not. Fiona has entrusted him with her story, and that has changed everything. Now Alistair isn't really sure of anything, and nothing--and no one--seems to be what he thought, not even himself. Is that because the magic of imagination is real--or because it isn't? And which possibility would be preferable?

A masterful book. One that gets beneath the reader's skin, due both to its ominous undertones and to how accurately it captures the feeling that life provides more questions than answers, questions we can't stop asking even when we can't find the answers. Alistair gets caught up in Fiona's story and wants desperately--even at the cost of nearly everything else he holds dear--to do the right things to help her, but can't make sense of things enough to know what or how, and we get obsessively caught up in that quest with him. I want to read this again, more carefully this time instead of rushing to reach the end, then have a good, meaty discussion with someone about it. It doesn't need to provide answers because the questions it raises are so satisfying to consider even as they frustrate. Is this a fantasy? Does it even matter whether it is or isn't? Read for yourself and decide. You'll enjoy the ride.


The Whisper

This series. Wow. So different and unexpected than most everything else out there. And this second book that is so unexpectedly different than the first, that reframes and deepens and changes The Riverman as it expands that book's universe exponentially.

In my review of The Riverman I wrote, This is a mystery book. But is it a fantasy book? That's the mystery. That's because Alistair was an observer in the first book, slowly drawn into caring about a strange world that might have been a fantasy horror and might have been a psychological thriller--with drastic consequences either way.

Now Alistair knows which it is, because he has gone from observer to participant, from watcher to doer. He has entered the fantasy horror. His role has changed, his perspective has changed, his setting has changed. He is still in pursuit of Fiona, but now it's in a fluid land of myth and stories and imagination. Anything a twelve-year-old mind might conjure can exist in Aquavania, and most of it does. The place has rules, but Alistair knows none of them. He has to figure out how to negotiate the ever varied and changing landscape in the hopes of achieving his goals--one of which has become simply getting home. And, as in The Riverman, his ex-best friend Charlie has a much larger role to play than Alistair ever expected.

Also as in that first book, this is a journey of discovery. It is a mystery, because the more we learn, the more we realize we know less than ever.

These are beautifully written, intricately plotted and layered books that never condescend to their middle grade audience. Teens and adults would enjoy them just as much, I believe. They are the kind of books that want repeat reading, because you know you will learn and understand so much more the second and third times through.

I only wish they had covers that better did them justice, because those don't compel engagement nearly as much as the contents they contain.
"The one who designs the monsters isn't the bad guy."

"But don't the monsters hurt people?" . . .

"The monsters do what monsters are designed to do," Charlie said. "But you need monsters, don't you? Someone has to create the beautiful things. And someone has to be in charge of the monsters. It doesn't mean that the monster master is the bad guy. Actually, it's probably harder to deal with monsters than it is with beautiful things, because the monsters will be hated. And hunted. Forever. So a game where you design monsters might be the hardest game of all. You're already setting yourself up to lose."

The spaceship few into the stars, and the final credits for the video game scrolled down the screen. "I guess I see your point," Alistair said. "Do you have a title?"

"Well," Charlie replied, setting down the controller, "the most powerful monsters are the ones that don't even seem like monsters. They're the little things, the soft things that sneak in and haunt you."

"Ghosts?" Alistair asked. "That might be a good title."

Charlie shook his head. "Whispers."


The Storyteller

Now, as I read it all over again, I wonder . . .

They call that literary analysis, Stella, and I'm not particularly good at it. My job is to write. Your job is to figure out the deep stuff.

And there is deep stuff going on here, isn't there? For the love of Luna, I hope so.
Oh, there is. There definitely is deep stuff going on here. You know because you feel it. Sometimes, though, feelings are hard to pinpoint. Hard to analyze. That's how this is. It doesn't necessarily need the literary analysis because it creates a depth of feeling not dependent on explicit definition.

That's been the nature of the entire trilogy. Each book is a surprise, a departure--a deviation--from what has come before. A new layer that revisits the earlier stories even as it adds entirely new ones. I find I must reflect that layering in order to describe the experience by revisiting what I wrote about the two previous books in my review of The Whisper:
This series. Wow. So different and unexpected than most everything else out there. And this second book that is so unexpectedly different than the first, that reframes and deepens and changes The Riverman as it expands that book's universe exponentially.

In my review of The Riverman I wrote, This is a mystery book. But is it a fantasy book? That's the mystery. That's because Alistair was an observer in the first book, slowly drawn into caring about a strange world that might have been a fantasy horror and might have been a psychological thriller--with drastic consequences either way.

Now Alistair knows which it is, because he has gone from observer to participant, from watcher to doer. He has entered the fantasy horror. His role has changed, his perspective has changed, his setting has changed. . . .
With this third book we have come full circle, back to the real world setting of The Riverman, a small town in New York, with normal people dealing with normal situations. Except the circle has spiraled to a new level, because it is no longer Alistair's story. Though this book picks up chronologically right after the others, he is now a side character in the story of his older sister, who narrates it in her diary.

Keri is maybe spurred to begin writing because of unusual and dramatic events involving her brother, but after recording her initial reactions to them she writes about herself. About her friends and her efforts to negotiate the changing social landscape of eighth grade, about the changes in her family as its members struggle to deal with the repercussions of Alistair's actions, and about her efforts to reconcile reality to the strange, fantastical explanations Alistair confides to her.

Keri also fills her diary--interspersed with her journalistic entries--with fantastical stories of her own. Odd, unsettling, possibly allegorical tales she feels compelled to write as a way of expressing her feelings at levels deeper than analysis allows. They begin with an image of a phosphorescent wombat and go through everything from a trapped princess to baby birds dying in exponentially increasing numbers, anthropomorphized clouds and knock-knock jokes and guns, a girl made of candy canes and a social network made of pasta tubes, and the expanded ramifications of opposite day and an inability to disbelieve. They are as compelling and moving as they are incomprehensible and baffling; confounding and insightful at the same time.

Just like the rest of the book. Just like the rest of the series. These books--the entire saga and all the little tales contained within--are about learning to live through the reality that life offers far more questions than answers. That some things, even as we feel them and express them and react to them, we'll just never understand. That some things just are, and always will be, mysteries. That we are, even to ourselves, even as we embody our emotions and enjoy engaging in pursuit of self-understanding, largely unknowable mysteries.

How this book accomplishes that is equal parts unpredictable, exceptional, unexpected, and astounding. And it is entirely wonderful.
This story is about . . . well, it's about how God is a wombat, because why can't God be a wombat? . . .

When I first came up with the story, that was the first thing I thought about. A wombat who becomes God. A wombat who destroys and resurrects our universe, but who in the end only wants to feel the pitter-patter of rain on her head. A wombat who loves and makes mistakes like any of us. A wombat who glows, but doesn't know why. A perfectly fine wombat.


They are by Aaron Starmer.



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