Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Monday, July 07, 2014

Glimmerglass at "Publishers Weekly"

Title page with decoration
(collage of painted and cut papers)
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Glimmerglass
Marly Youmans. Mercer Univ., $24 (224p) 
ISBN 978-0-88n146-491-7
     This stylish contemporary variation on the Bluebeard legend from Youmans (A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage) serves up an appealing blend of myth, mystery, and magic. [SOME SPOILERS AHEAD - SKIP TO END IF YOU DON'T LIKE SPOILERS.] Cynthia Sorrel, a painter in a creative rut, visits Cooper Patent, a hamlet located on New York's Glimmerglass Lake. she rents a rustic gatehouse cottage from half-brothers Theodore and Andrew Wild, who live together in their ancestral mansion, Sea House. Hired by the siblings to paint a portrait of them, Cynthia feels newly inspired as in artist after spotting a young boy running through the woods outside. The eccentric, "shifty" Theodore unnerves her, but she is charmed by Andrew, a widower and grandfather. The two eventually marry, and Cynthis grows attached to his three young grandchildren, Lizzie, Drew, and Ned. She continues to be wary of Theodore, however, particularly after he creepily relates a story to her of how, when he was young, his cousin Moss was lost in the caved-in tunnels beneath the house. Eventually, Cynthia decides to explore Sea House's subterranean labyrinth for herself in order to put the Wild family's dark secrets to rest. [END SPOILERS.] Even readers who don't go for more traditional fantasy fare should enjoy this vividly written yarn. (Sept.)

Two thoughts, with thanks to the PW reviewer... 

One, Bluebeard never popped into my mind while writing or revising this book! Perhaps I should have thought of him...

And two, I think there could be a serious and interesting argument between people who like to categorize fiction whether this book is literary fiction without a single fantastic thing in it (though much that is very strange), or whether it is, indeed, fantastic in nature. It does contain a figure that is or is not the Muse, and it does contain a strange passage derived from the classical world, the somnium. And it feels strange. But would or should a genre-loving person call it one or the other, literary fiction or fantasy? I don't know. Maybe they would call it interstitial. As I tend not to categorize except by good vs. bad, I don't worry about it. But as other people do, particularly reviewers, I think about categories from time to time.

13 comments:

  1. One cannot be responsible for what people see in one's work, I suppose. That's half the fun.
    All the same, all of your work has an otherworldly quality about it, even if it isn't out-and-out fantasy.
    In any case, I look forward to reading the book.

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    1. I have a slightly different take on time, space, and also novel-fat (that is, I don't like it much,) and those things do affect the atmosphere of my books.

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  2. Attempts to categorize fiction in one genre or another so often get it wrong, no matter how well-meaning the reviewers are! Still, I am hopeful that this write-up will attract new readers to your work, Marly! I am really looking forward to reading your new book!

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    1. Thanks, Robin--I hope that you like it!

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  3. Reviewers! Phooey! Especially PW's hired guns. As Shakespeare might have said about PW: The first thing we do is kill all the reviewers! As a former reviewer (reformed via 12 step program), I have license to malign reviewers, especially the PW hacks. So there! Feel better now?

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    Replies
    1. You are funny, Tim!

      I'm fine with the review--I'm just interested in whether and why people categorize, and I'm not much of a categorizer. But I don't object to other people who wish to embrace genres. (I do object to lots of other things in life. Tapeworms. Millipedes. Centipedes. Murder and general havoc. Frustration. Toxic plants. Bad movies. Etc.)

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  4. If Hymen can walk onstage at the end of "As You Like It," you can do what you like and the work remain literature. What are "The Divine Comedy," "Paradise Lost," and "Moby-Dick" if not fantastic literature?

    It's a nice review. The Bluebeard thing is funny. I remember that one reviewer of my The Astrologer swore it was the story of a real-life person I'd never even heard of!

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    1. Agree! Wonderfully fantastic, all of them...

      That's amusing--people often make connections that are new to me, or sometimes link my work with someone wholly unexpected.

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  5. Remember this about reviewers at mills like PW . . . They write for peanuts . . . So some reviewers eager to make more $ crank out reviews without reading the books . . . So never forget that fact of life about PW . . . I know that dirty secret because of insider experience . . .

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    1. The Sparks notes approach to reviewing? XD

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  6. Never mind the reviewer's vague attempt at genre categorization—or the emphasis on plot summary, which bugs me. A "yarn"? Seriously? "Yarn" is one of those words that belongs on a long list of chestnuts that book reviewers would be wise to avoid.

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    1. You don't like the idea of my telling a piratical yarn? It might be next!

      You ought to expand Jeff Sypeck's Advice for Reviewers! It's a good beginning...

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  7. BB, I accidentally deleted your question. I suppose it is just as well because I did not understand it anyway!

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Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.