Magic and love are complimentary notions, but author Charlie Jane Anders adds more to the mix: science. Strangely, the menage a trois of genres works well in All the Birds in the Sky.
The novel evolves into an apocalyptic tale from what initially seems like something in the realm of young adult fiction. A lot of sci-fi elements also are thrown in along the way. Nonetheless, it’s consistently a love story.
Laurence and Patricia meet in junior high school as social outcasts. Laurence is a science nerd; no one can quite figure out Patricia. At first their inability to fit in attracts them, ultimately it’s what drives them apart. Laurence views the world through scientific theories/applications. He builds a super-computer in his bedroom closet. Patricia talks to birds and relies on magic. Circumstances separate them until they are reunited as adults in a world soon to face mass destruction.
The development of the major characters is like watching children grow. Sometimes it’s very fast and other times not so much. Still, it’s always interesting.
Anders injects the narrative with humor, which in the face of an apocalypse is impressive. The escalation of events that lead to power outages, water scarcity and death is gradual; Anders creates a sense of urgency, but isn’t heavy handed about it. There’s empathy with fear.
To say the main characters are star-crossed is too much of a cliché, yet … when love, magic and science are thrown into the same dystopia it’s the perfect description.
All the Birds in the Sky
Tom Doherty Associates, 2016
Beautiful Ruins is a cinematic novel. It’s easy to imagine this story playing on the silver screen. It spans years and continents, relies heavily on the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and features a strong connection to the movie industry. At its core, this is a love story, and a beautiful one at that.
Jess Walter’s tale involves a young actress, Dee, who arrives in an isolated Italian fishing village on the Ligurian Sea, where she meets Pasquale the owner of the Adequate View Hotel. Dee has been sent from Rome, where she had a bit part in the filming of Cleopatra. Dee is also pregnant with Burton’s child. Although it may sound like a blurb from People magazine, Walter imbues his narrative with deep feelings, humor, interesting characters and a clear passion for romance.
However, just when it seems the story will settle in the fishing village (the most interesting place) or even Los Angeles (because of the Hollywood scene), several miscellaneous locales are introduced: Seattle, London, Spokane, Florence, even Donner Pass in Northern California. Walter includes an assortment of characters, none of whom, surprisingly, are superfluous. Added, to this mix are different time periods: the early 1960s, the 1800s, and something more contemporary. The myriad of people, places and eras at first seems disparate, but they actually are essential what makes this such an engaging work.
Ruins are most often associated with architecture. Here Walter incorporates them into the erosion, but not extinction, of human emotions.
A Good American is not only an engaging tale about immigrants, it’s also a captivating
account of the power of family and community. Alex George’s novel begins as a love story,
which ultimately becomes a chronicle spanning four generations. George starts with the un-
likely courtship of Frederick Meisenheimer and Jette Furst in Hanover, Germany. The uncon-
ventional Frederick woos Jette, a robust independent woman, by singing Puccini from behind
a privet wall; thus setting a precedent for the importance of music in the Meisenheimer house-
hold. The pair soon relocates to Beatrice, Missouri.
Narrated by James, Frederick and Jette’s grandson, the novel is an absorbing examination
of domestic life. The story is abundant with an eccentric cast of supporting characters, rang-
ing from a giant to a midget. And, as James notes, “While we were growing up, so was America.”
Rural America is the perfect backdrop for the Meisenheimer portrait. This is not a glowing
portrayal because the members have their share of faults. Yet these only to serve to make
everyone more believable. As with any family, dysfunction does exist in the bloodline. Its
manifestation simply, and oddly, makes everyone even more endearing. The beauty, and
strength, of the novel is that it is filled with not just one good American, but many. It may
be easy to overlook the concept of America as a melting pot today, but George’s narrative,
even while acknowledging the negative elements lurking in the shadows, reflects the best
ingredients that make this country what it is.
A Good American
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012