by Sean Stewart
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Sean Stewart's Mockingbird is the story of Toni Beauchamp and her attempts to come to terms with her deceased mother. The novel, told by Toni Beauchamp opens at her mother's funeral and ends with the birth of Toni's own child a year later. Toni's mother, Elena, was a woman possessed by six spirits of varying personalities and helpfulness. Her last bequest is for the spirits to aid Toni, or haunt her has Toni tends to think of them. Toni's personality and aspirations are quite different from her mother's, and she sees her mother's gift as simply an attempt by Elena to continue to control Toni's life after her death. Stewart's novel follows Toni through a year of her life. Although there is a plot of sorts, Stewart's main concern is portraying Toni's struggles as she discovers more about her mother than she had ever guessed and begins to see her mother as a person rather than as a role. There is a recurrent theme of Toni coming to terms with relationships which had apparently been put behind her. In the year covered by the novel, Toni goes on various disastrous dates with men she had known prior to the book's beginning. She learns that her mother had a previously unknown past which Toni must now deal with. Most importantly, of course, is Toni's own relationship with her deceased mother and her attempts to avoid becoming like her mother, made all the more difficult because of the presence of the six gods her mother bequeathed her who have a tendency to take over Toni's body with little warning. There are certain cities which seem to lend themselves to magic realism. While Houston is not one which springs to mind, Sean Stewart manages to use the city to good effect as the background for his magic realist novel Mockingbird. He brings the city to life with a mixture of real and imaginary locations which blend seamlessly into the background as Toni attempts to deal with the aftermath of her mother's death, her sister's impending marriage and her own pregnancy. If all women suffered during pregnancy the way Toni does, there would be no concern with overpopulation. In fact, the human race would probably be extinct by this time. Stewart seems to have read several books on pregnancy and spoken to several woman and combined the worst symptoms and experiences of pregnancy in a way which would have been a caricature except for Stewart's ability to infuse Toni's description with emotion. Penny Friessen sums up one of the main themes of Mockingbird at Elena's funeral when she comments to Toni, "the hardest thing about having someone die, I find, is forgiving them." Toni spends the remainder of the novel attempting to come to terms with her arduous relationship with her mother as well as her own imminent motherhood. Although Mockingbird is a fantasy novel, it is not what many people would consider a fantasy novel. The magic element, while important to the plot, is played down throughout the book, although not to the extent that the characters can be considered to be imagining the strangeness in their lives. Stewart has written a book which will appeal to readers of modern fantasy and which can be used as an introduction to people who shy away from reading fantasy.
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