Wednesday, April 13, 2005
I read on a lit blog somewhere a note about how many blog entries (and how many letters also) begin with a lament about how long it has taken to write--so I'm abandoning that herd. Look! How swiftly! Must be the springtime--though there was SNOW in Boston yesterday.

Nicholas Christopher's excellent A Trip to the Stars is one of those slightly obscure, completely wonderful books that we all love to recommend--it makes us feel well-read and possessors of fine taste for having discovered him. (I came upon him as a present from my sister, who gives good rec.)

So when I saw his book Veronica in a book store, I thought I would open myself up to further dazzlement. Veronica is like a protoype for A Trip to the Stars. It has many of the same elements--specific, odd bits of information, peculiar mystical symbols, a fascination with magic, and a noir-ish sensibility and pace--but the components don't come together into as satisfying a whole. The book feels scattered into pieces as the overlapping symbols return and return (the crescent of stars, the locks that sound like stones underwater, the blue and gold bird, etc.); they are too many and too variable, and the action too choppy, to build up into a narrative that actually sweeps us up. The book is freighted with external knowledge (he even provides a reading list at the end)--the effect is that he doesn't seem to trust his own powers of engagement, or the worth of what he has made from the pieces he found. The short chapters (many are 3 or 4 pages) keep the narrative moving, but in a way that doesn't let us care for the characters in the way we do for the characters in A Trip to the Stars.

And so it feels like a first pass at a book that got fully realized later; for that reason it is interesting to read--to tease out the balance of elements and judge why they don't quite work. None of this against Mr. Christopher--he is an excellent writer and the book is solid--but A Trip to the Stars is far better. And I will be looking forward to reading whatever he writes next. But this one? 2 stars.

In Lower Manhattan there is an improbable point where Waverly Place intersects Waverly Place.


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