Wendy Archibald

Summerland by Michael Chabon

In Children's, Fantasy, Reviews on February 8, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Product Details

I realize I’ve been neglecting this blog. What can I say? Stuff happens, and I’ve had a lot of ‘stuff’ that has happened to me throughout the past ten months that hasn’t been all that pleasant and didn’t exactly fit into my life plan. Which, interestingly enough, is one of the reasons I ended up liking this book so much.

Don’t get me wrong: this book is weird. It isn’t my normal fare, and I didn’t understand a lot of it. (There’s some part of my brain that shuts down after 12 different kinds of magical creatures are introduced. I can’t help it. So the shmucks put into the story after that get quickly dropped into ‘supporting cast’ and I hope for the best.) However, I think one of the great tests of a book is how it resonates. This book completely resonated with me.

Ethan Feld is our hero, a 10- or 11- or 12-year-old boy who lives alone with his father on an island off of Washington state. His mother died a year previously, so they moved from Colorado to a property where his dad had the space to perfect the mini-zeppelins he had invented. Anyway, the book goes on (and on and on–it’s pretty long) where Ethan–who is not really very good at baseball–is the champion needed to save this world along with the three others that are connected to it. In the end, it comes down to (you guessed it!) a baseball game.

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but the part I liked the most is near the end. Ethan can’t find any of his friends and he seems surrounded by evil henchmen (although I guess they would actually be called ‘henchwolves’ and other things like that, since they weren’t men) and he is completely exhausted. In his hands, he holds the last thing that keeps the four worlds from collapsing, a baseball bat carved from The Tree. He tries not to fall asleep, but he’s just so very tired.

It’s this moment when Coyote (the bad guy) sends in his weapon: the ghost of Ethan’s mother. She’s crying, and she comes to Ethan, and this is what happens:

“Her sobbing ceased, then, though its ghost or echo shook her frail body from time to time. He could feel the bones through her skin, just as he had when she lay dying in the hospital in Colorado Springs, those hollow angel bones of hers. The sweetness of that bitter memory, of her embrace, of holding her again and hearing her voice, filled his heart so full that all the old healed places in it were broken all over again. And in that moment he felt–for the first time that optomistic and cheerful boy allowed for himself to feel–how badly made life was, how flawed. No matter how richly furnished you made it, with all the noise and variety of Something, Nothing always found a way in, seeped through the cracks and patches.”

Just as Ethan is about to give in and hand the bat over to his mother, it catches on an injured part of his hand. The pain wakes him up enough to realize that it isn’t really his mother, simply La Llorona posing as her. Ethan yanks the bat back and she goes away, and then this:

“The grief of his mother’s death was returned to him, then; it resumed its right and familiar place: a part of life, a part of the story of Ethan Feld, a part of the world that was, after all, a world of stories, tragic and delightful, and, on the whole, very much the better for it. The memory of Dr. Victoria Jean Kummerman Feld was Something, unalterably Something, a hodag’s egg that no amount of Nothing could ever hope to touch or dissolve.”

The writing is completely mesmerizing, and I think the resonance comes because that beautiful writing and that complicated story have, at the core, truth. There were so many truths for me, at this time of my life. The truth that life is full of tragic and delightful parts; the truth that even when you feel inadequate you still need to give it the best you’ve got; the truth of good friends; the truth that painful experiences become a part of our own personal stories and that without them the story isn’t the same; and the truth that sometimes pain gives us the power to do what we need to do.

Read this book. See if it resonates with you.

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