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Child of a Rainless Year
ISBN: 0765309378
By Jane Lindskold
Review by: Kim Wells

06/06/05

Jane Lindskold's Child of a Rainless Year, borders on magical realist fantasy, but never quite crosses into the fairy-tale landscape that some writers of the genre reach. There is more to believe in the novel than to disbelieve. This is not to say that it is realism-- far from it. But the fantasy and magic elements seem so normal that you find yourself forgetting that this book deals with things that do not happen in our everyday world.

Set predominantly in Las Vegas New Mexico (not to be confused with its glitzier twin in Nevada), Lindskold makes the setting into a character as compelling as its human players. The story is about middle-aged Mira Fenn (or Mira Bogatyr) and her quest to find out what happened to her enigmatic mother, who disappeared when Mira was a child. Mira travels back to Las Vegas and her childhood home of Phineas House to explore her childhood memories, which she has come to believe weren't as fantastic as she remembers it (how could it be?) That she finds it was just as magical and more is the fantasy part, but the realist part is evenly balanced with the magic.

In the process of the narrative's unfolding, Mira learns her family's history, as well as the history of the small New Mexico town in which her family was an influence. She comes to learn about her own origins, and her mother's life, in ways the adult Mira never expected (but perhaps the child Mira sensed). What was original about the novel was its calm exploration of the magic events of the novel. Mira matter-of-factly accepts things that would have most people quivering in fear and shock. Part of this, I believe, comes from Mira's age-- with her in her fifties, this is no coming-of-age story. Her middle-aged characterization makes the novel less frantic than it might have been had Mira been a younger woman learning these histories. In a way, in spite of her age, Mira does come of age-- she learns more about herself and her relationships with other, largely absent from the present but still strongly influential, women.

The novel features magical elements: a ghost, time-travel, a house that lives and breathes and seeks its rightful caretaker (manifesting its will in some very interesting and magic ways). In the early pages of the novel, I half expected some more complicated (or maybe better described as conventional) magic to appear-- fairies, perhaps, or witches. But the truth of the novel's magic is much simpler, and therefore, more compelling. In reality, the more magical aspects of Mira's quest again are so normal-seeming that I tended to forget about the implausibility of something like Mira's experiences happening to me, and we never really venture into the land of fairy-tale in the way other "urban fantasy" novels that I am fond of always do. But this was not a weakness.

The prose, tone, and characterization of the novel was generally rich, evocative, and interesting. There is a faint touch of romance in Mira's relationship with another important character, and I would have liked to see more of that character's personality and history come to view. But this is being nit-picky, since this character was fairly well-rounded, after all. There are some loose-ends that could be tied up better, but perhaps Lindskold means to re-visit this world again in the future. One could probably argue this as a weakness, but I prefer to praise the idea that not everything is wrapped up tightly and finished in a few hundred pages. Just like "normal" life, there are still things to learn, and yet, I did not end the novel feeling cheated of a conclusion. If we don't get the finality of a black screen with the words "The End" on it, then all the better.

If you're looking for fantasy of the sort with wizards and sneetches, or beautiful princesses that discover their hidden legacy and magic prince in a magic kingdom, this is not at all your cup of tea. But for someone who sees the magic potential of normal, everyday life, and looks to explore some of our own originary stories as we age, this is a worthwhile read.







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