Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA
What if twenty years ago your loved one disappeared, simply vanished from the face of the planet, and then one day, out of the blue, she returned, and she offered as the reason she was gone that she had been abducted by a fairy, would you believe her?
I know I wouldn’t, but that’s the situation in Some Kind of Fairy Tale, a fantasy tale by award-winning author Graham Joyce. And as much as I enjoy Joyce’s writing, that’s the problem that I had with this story. I simply couldn’t believe it.
Twenty years ago, 16 year-old Tara disappeared, leaving behind her grieving parents, her brother Peter, and a boyfriend Richie, who happens to be her brother’s best friend. She’s a missing person, presumed dead, and her boyfriend Richie is suspected of the crime. The accusation puts a strain on Richie’s and Peter’s relationship, and they don’t talk for twenty years. The authorities never find Tara’s body, and Richie is never formally charged.
Twenty years later, Tara returns to her parents’ doorstep. Her family is overjoyed, until they hear her explanation as to why she’s been gone: she was abducted by a fairy and spent the last 20 years in some alternate reality in fairy land. And for
Tara, only 6 months have passed, although for her family and friends, it’s been 20 years.
Her older brother Peter is outraged and thinks his sister is a liar. He gets Tara to agree to see a psychiatrist, who after several sessions, believes Tara has concocted the story to cover up a traumatic event, perhaps being abducted and raped.
Strangely, Tara, although 36, still looks very youthful, as if she’s still 16. She also agrees to see a dentist, who makes some tests, and deduces that Tara can’t be who she says she is because her teeth belong to a 16 year-old.
Or perhaps she is who she says she is, and her story of a fairy abduction is true.
While I enjoyed Graham Joyce’s writing in Some Kind of Fairy Tale, I was never completely won over by the story he had to tell.
I liked the intrigue the story offered. Just what happened to Tara is the question which drives the novel along. But considerable time is spent telling the tale of her experience inside the fairy world, and while this world is neatly constructed, almost perfectly so, I found it much less captivating than the events which occur in the real world.
The character I most identified with was Tara’s brother, Peter. He doubts his sister throughout the novel, and I shared his doubts. I was rooting for him to get to the bottom of her story, to find out where exactly she had been the past two decades.
I also liked the subplot of Peter’s son Jack, who accidentally kills his elderly neighbor’s cat and then begrudgingly accepts the task of helping her find it, even though he knows it’s dead. Jack even goes so far as trying to replace the cat with another one that looks just like it. The subplot of loss and return involving a pet parallels the main tale of the loss and return of Tara.
The story of Tara’s parents, their grief, and how they come to terms with their daughter’s reappearance also works.
The best story in the book though, belongs to Richie, Tara’s rock star boyfriend. Richie possessed enough talent to make it in the rock music world, but he quickly became a has-been when he lost the drive to succeed after Tara disappeared. How he reacts to Tara’s return, as he attempts to get his life back, is the most rewarding tale in the novel.
But, sadly, the most important story in the book, Tara’s story, didn’t captivate me enough to win me over, and as a result I never was all that into it, which is a problem since the bulk of the book is about this fantasy aspect of the story.
It’s not a problem with Joyce’s writing. He describes the land of the fairies, and the fairies themselves in vivid detail. It’s just that I kept expecting some alternate truth to surface— the real story behind where Tara was the past twenty years— but that story never materializes. I would have preferred it had the story steered away from the fantasy and delved closer into reality, offering real alternatives as to what happened to Tara. But this is not the story in Some Kind of Fairy Tale.
Why was this such an issue for me? I mean, what’s the difference between believing in a story about fairies and believing in a story about vampires or zombies? Technically, there is no difference. But the case has to be made, that regardless of the fantasy element, the author still has to convince the reader that the story he’s telling just might be true. In this case, I was never fully convinced.
Some Kind of Fairy Tale is a passable tale. When dealing with real people and real problems, the book soars and makes for a compelling drama and mystery. However, when it enters fairy tale land and deals with its fantasy elements, it lost me, and I found myself not caring all that much. I was hoping for a darker tale with a trace of fantasy elements, but what I got was a fantasy tale with a trace of darkness. For me, a trace wasn’t enough. I wanted more. In a tale about a young woman’s disappearance, I wanted something more sinister in its explanation.
Some Kind of Fairy Tale is exactly what its title says it is, a fairy tale. I would have liked it better if it wasn’t.