As is usually the case, a dark horse winner emerged yesterday when I was trying to decide which book to read next. When I got home from work there was a package tucked neatly inside our storm door--a review copy of Elizabeth Crane's short story collection, You Must Be This Happy to Enter. Seeing as I have the attention span of a skink at the moment and very short bursts of time in which to read, I figured it might be just the thing to bust my slump. So far, so good! Between short bits of reading yesterday and a little bit today, I'm already over 50 pages in, and while Crane's writing style and subject matter are nothing short of...ummm...eccentric...I'm enjoying it. Enough to finish it this weekend, I would bet.
Thank you all for the wonderful recommendations and cheerleading so far! I'm definitely gonna read one of the books I listed after I finish the Crane. Right now I'm leaning toward 1001 Nights of Snow Fall or Kavalier and Clay. But, you all know me...I might change my mind in five minutes.
Aside from the physical act of holding and reading a book, I've also been "reading" Keith Donohue's novel, The Stolen Child, on audio to make my commute more bearable. Heather F. first recommended this book to me when she finished it, and I became increasingly intrigued when I read her interview with the author in the July issue of Estella's Revenge. (Note to Keith Donohue: Every time I try to type your name, I inevitably write "Keith Donohuge" the first time around. My compliments to you, sir.) I can't wait to go back and read the interview again, since I know I'll appreciate it much more on this side of the reading experience.
If you haven't yet heard of this book, make a note. GO BUY IT! It's a complicated story, but here's my best shot at a short blurb:
Henry Day is something of a lonesome, disconnected child--the perfect target for changelings. One day, when he runs off into the woods, he's snatched by fairy children and one of them takes his place in the human world. The real Henry Day is dubbed "Aniday" by his changeling companions and relegated to a seemingly immortal life trapped in a 7-year-old's body. Meanwhile, the new Henry Day surprises and mystifies his parents with his sudden musical abilities. The Stolen Child is made of interlocking threads of story told from the perspectives of Aniday and the new Henry.
Admittedly, I probably wouldn't have picked this book up any time soon if I hadn't found it discounted on audio when I visited Texas for Christmas. Despite Heather's glowing recommendation and her assurance that I would love it (she's always right), I haven't yet overcome fairy tale burnout from my Master's degree. Since my thesis was on comics and fairy tales, I've been detoxing since my thesis defense in June. However, finding myself out of audio books and in desperate need of entertainment on my way to/from work, I popped The Stolen Child into my car's CD player and decided to give it a go.
I would like to say I was hooked from the beginning, but it took some warming up to really become entranced by the story. Right off the bat, I knew the narrators were something special. Two men, Andy Paris and Jeff Woodman, do a fantastic job with the respective stories of Aniday and Henry. There's a boyish playfulness to their narration, and their performances drew me in despite my doubts and my usual reading moodiness. By disc three (of ten) I was completely involved, and found myself wishing to sit in my car and listen a little longer when I arrived at work or home.
Besides the glowing performance aspect, I really have to tip my hat to Keith Donohue for his masterful storytelling. The mingling of Aniday and Henry's stories is superb. Aniday's story is compelling for a number of reasons, but I really loved the description of his life in the woods among his fairy companions and the dangers and joys associated with their friendships. It was also quite interesting to experience his intellectual and emotional maturation, all the while trapped in a child's body. He grows up, so to speak, yet always stays a child. He simultaneously experiences the world as an adult but manages to hold onto a childish playfulness that most adults forget or "grow out of"--a lust for adventure, mischief, and merrymaking.
Henry Day, on the other hand, must adjust to a life among humans after centuries as a fairy child. As he grows up human, he begins to remember his first human life--before he was stolen by the changelings--all the while losing touch with his memories of the forest and his child companions.
The trickiest part of the whole business, and one of the juiciest parts of the story, is the distance that grows between the man and boy even as their lives are inextricably linked. For it is dangerous and taboo for the changeling children to have contact with the human world, and Henry Day, as he becomes increasingly human, begins to fear and suspect the worst of the changelings he glimpses in the shadows.
Keith Donohue presented his book to the publishers as a "bedtime story for adults," and I think that's a nice way of putting it. I can't say I was in the mood for fantasy when I started listening to this book (one of the reasons I was hesitant), but it doesn't feel like fantasy as one reads or listens. Donohue's descriptions are earthy and lush without being overblown. There's a glaze of the unreal to this novel, yet it was never unbelievable. At its most basic, The Stolen Child is about two men, their unique lives, and their problematic connection to one another.
I give it a rare, perfect score. 10/10. I think I just found one of the books that will show up on my 2008 Top Ten list. Not bad for a reading slump, huh?
Now I'm off to grade a class-load of papers. Pray for my soul!