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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Flying in Place, by Susan Palwick

Flying in Place (New York, Tor, 1992) was the Crawford Award-winning first novel by Susan Palwick (to her blog). Palwick is a Christian novelist, writing fantastic literature, but her work is not overtly evangelical, as some such fiction is. (Which is fine, but not likely to appeal to non-believers -- authors such as Palwick can and do.)

As is my habit when blogging about a story I like, I will try to avoid giving away essential plot details. I'll just consider a few aspects of this novel about a terribly dysfunctional family.

One aspect is that there is a second, functional family in the story. They are messy, loud, and a little overwhelming, but they are good. They help each other, and they help other people who need help. Myrna Halloran, the mother of this family, and also a school counselor, is a good person. Not a goody-goody person, a good person. The book doesn't say so in so many words, but she seems to exemplify Matthew 7:12 (the Golden Rule) as well as most any character in literature.

Another aspect of this short novel (179 pages) is that part of Psalm 139 is used in an unusual way. One of the members of the dysfunctional family uses part of this Psalm as a way of communicating and describing wicked behavior by another member of the family. That disturbed me. Is this a legitimate use of the Bible? Well, it isn't reasonable to expect a character in a work of fiction to be confined to using the Bible in a usual way. Satan used the Bible in an illegitimate way, namely to tempt Christ, so there is certainly precedent. Besides, in the case in Palwick's book, I finally decided, the use was toward a good end, namely getting the wickedness to stop.

Finally, I was a little surprised that the book won a fantasy award. Except for two related aspects, the book could be straightforward narrative, based on a true story. That aspect is that one of the characters can leave her body, taking up a ghost-like existence temporarily, and, while she is doing so, can apparently communicate with the ghost of a dead person. I guess that's fantasy enough, though.

A gripping story, deserving of a prize, and an excellent first novel.

I have posted about Palwick's The Fate of Mice, and The Necessary Beggar. I have also discussed her writing here. Palwick has published another book, which I haven't seen yet. I look forward to it.

Thanks for reading.

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Addendum: Palwick has kindly commented, and, for convenience, I'm adding her comment to the post:


A lot of readers don't interpret the story as fantasy, but to my mind, it has to be -- Ginny's a real ghost, telling Emma things she couldn't know otherwise, and not merely a figment of Emma's imagination.

Re Psalm 139: I first encountered it years before I began attending church, at a memorial service for deceased alumnae of my university. I was there representing a friend and roommate who'd committed suicide, so my mood was even darker than such an event would ordinarily make it. When I read the Psalm in the program, my first thought was, "That's not about a loving God -- it's about an oppressive, abusive father!"

Even now, when I go to church and preach there, I still have trouble reading that Psalm as comforting, rather than as a chilling description of an inescapable stalker.

4 comments:

Susan Palwick said...

Thanks for the nice review, Martin!

A lot of readers don't interpret the story as fantasy, but to my mind, it has to be -- Ginny's a real ghost, telling Emma things she couldn't know otherwise, and not merely a figment of Emma's imagination.

Re Psalm 139: I first encountered it years before I began attending church, at a memorial service for deceased alumnae of my university. I was there representing a friend and roommate who'd committed suicide, so my mood was even darker than such an event would ordinarily make it. When I read the Psalm in the program, my first thought was, "That's not about a loving God -- it's about an oppressive, abusive father!"

Even now, when I go to church and preach there, I still have trouble reading that Psalm as comforting, rather than as a chilling description of an inescapable stalker.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks!

Well, God does watch us, but I think that that Psalm was meant as a comfort. Too bad it got warped for you.

Dawn Pace said...

I've always felt the same as Martin here- that the psalm is a comforting, fatherly one.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Dawn Pace!