Sunday, April 5, 2009
Clap if you believe in fairies
"What occurs in the world of the faerie will become manifest in the world of men"
Reviewed: "Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story," by Carolyn Turgeon, Three Rivers Press, 2009, $13.95, 279 pp.
I’m a fan of novels that push envelope of the concept of "willing suspension of disbelief" by mixing reality with fantasy. Carolyn Turgeon’s latest novel, her second, "Godmother: The Secret Cinderella Story," does just that.
The enjoyable and quite readable fictitious tale follows Lil, an old woman who works her days away in a New York City bookshop while dreaming of returning to her youth as a fairy — yes, a fairy in the fashion of Peter Pan’s Tinkerbell, complete with wings and mystical powers. And Lil wasn’t just any fairy, she was the fairy chosen to be Cinderella’s fairy godmother.
But this is a Cinderella story that strays far from the innocuous, bubbly Disney version. At first glance at the book’s gorgeous cover, I thought maybe I could pass the book along to my 9-year-old niece, but as I read more changed my mind. I realized this is no light fairy tale, though it truly is the tale of a fairy. This fairy tale is more of the Grimm Brothers sort.
Lil is a tragic, heartbroken figure. She’s a person broken in spirit who hasn’t given up hope for redemption for past wrongs. She leads a double life: On one hand, she’s a knowledgeable bookshop assistant who ekes out a meager existence in a rent-controlled apartment; On the other, she’s a lonely, outcast creature who once did something so heinous as to lose the keys to the kingdom, so to speak.
Desperately, Lil wants to redeem herself — something she feels could possibly take her back to the fairy world, to the sister she lost at a young age and dearly misses.
The opportunity presents itself in the form of a good deed of sorts for Lil’s boss, a dashing Prince Charming of a bookshop owner who’s unlucky in love. Lil encounters and has an instant connection with Veronica, an artsy type who may the perfect young woman for him, at the shop and arranges for them to have a magical date to an actual society ball.
But the story is not as light and sweet as it may sound. There’s an underlying despair in Lil’s character, in her story. As much as we want her to be redeemed from her discgrace, we begin to doubt her credibility. But we are already, as they say, enchanted by this story.
Apparent are Turgeon’s sheer imagination, exquisite and colorful language and descriptions and ability to generate momentum within the story.
She reminds us that life, after all, is no fairy tale.
And though the world may be cruel, there is hope.
*Full disclosure: Carolyn Turgeon went to my high school (dear old State College Area Senior High School in State College, Pa.), graduating the year before I did. We were acquainted then, but didn’t stay in touch over the past two decades. I recently reconnected with Carolyn through a popular social networking site and was pleasantly surprised to learn she is a full-time author of marvelous and magical books (Her first novel, "Rain Village," went to print in 2006. Learn more at her website). Turgeon is quite the blogger as well: Check out The Astonishing Blog.