Many dramatic and sometimes terrible things happen in Thaliad, but the narrative does end on a glad we-are-not-alone note that suggested "the marriage plot" structure to Lesley Wheeler. I'm not one to end in that direction lightly, and a novel I've written that does appear to end that way to some degree--Catherwood, soon to be back in print--ends with the figure of a man and a woman holding a cloak wrapped around human bones. That's just not your average romantic embrace... (Val/Orson also has union at the ending, deliberately borrowing inspiration--and twins and Arcadian landscape--from Shakespeare's romances.)
Nor is this a typical romance; we catch glimpses of a much older Thalia as leader of her realm through the memory and eyes of the young woman, Emma, who serves as narrator. Thalia and the narrator have large roles in their community, though both would very much like to have children--that is, to continue a fragile world. They want a man, yes, but not for reasons of romance. There is nothing of yielding in their desire, nothing soft. A man is no figure, one of many, to dream after and fancy, but a piece of the post-catastrophe puzzle, a vital part of renewal of the world--and not just of the world but of the world as a better place than the one that died. The last words of the poem are not the end of Thalia's story by any means, and we know it because we have seen her leading the members of the community--we don't see her man again, but we know he fulfilled a role as father, that children were born. The sequel to the story is seeded in this one.
However, I might have nabbed the man and then had a different ending. But then it would not have been a closure that foretells new beginning; it would not be the sudden knowledge and surety and joy to Thalia that it is. She will enter in to her rightful inheritance and live out her role as leader; this she knows, bone-deep.
As the internet is a lively place, I've already gotten several responses. Here's a younger reader who shall remain anonymous:
I see what [Lesley Wheeler] means about the sudden implication of romance at the end after [Thalia has] already caused the death of two men over refusing to choose between them. But what I think she's missing is the mythic aspect of it. It's not about "marriage," it's about Adam and Eve... if that makes sense.
That is, we know that hope was confirmed in time because we have the narrator's word and her account of the older Thalia. What strikes me is that there is no other beginning possible at the end, unless one wants immaculate conception or the discovery of a sweet little sperm lab in good, frozen shape accompanied by clear, easily comprehensible directions on retrieval and thawing...
Any other ending does not fulfill the promise of the beginning or make sense in terms of what we already know about Thalia; without Thorn, the blossoming of Thalia's world is impossible, and yet the whole book from the very first lines proclaims that it has already happened. The very fact that Emma is narrator declares it. It does not matter if Thorn remains a minor character. He is a needed foundational figure for the tale Emma narrates.
...she's the only one left! How does humanity start over if she doesn't become the new matriarch? Perhaps the reviewer's feminist axe is ground to too fine an edge.It's an interesting question Lesley Wheeler brings up.
I always saw it as more of a Virgin myth grown up: the girl who wants to remain virgin and dedicated to her vocation who then, by virtue of actually growing up and seeing What Needs to be Done, also becomes matriarch. It's not like she was going to spend her life being somebody's little wife!
If you've read the book, please weigh in... I promise to have zero prejudice against those who are critical. Writers must have skins that endure slings and arrows, and they need to be able to question their own work. And learn. And grow. Like Thalia, they need to come into their inheritance as best they can.
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Review clips for Thaliad here.
The book has had some spectacular, bright reviews,
and there are links if you want to read more.
Amazon reviews here.
So far, the book has nine 5-star reviews.
Alas, books of poetry often have none at all, so I'm glad of these.
Phoenicia Publishing Thaliad page here.
If you want a paperback, that's easy--available in the usual spots.
If you want a limited edition hardcover, go through Phoenicia.
Looks for an indie bookstore here.