by Maithy Vu
Genre: Literary Fiction / Magical Realism
Print Length: 264 pages
Reviewed by pine breaks
An enchanting, surreal, and whimsical tale of finding new friends amid personal discovery
Our story begins with four travelers aboard a strange magical ship “in the middle of the sea where the sky is painted yellow and orange, blue and pink.” They are in search of a mysterious squid that prowls the waters far out to sea and leaves those it encounters different in ways they cannot foresee.
As with all wonderful journeys, our heroes traverse a gamut of human frailties. August Norwood is the unspectacular member of a wealthy family, whose fortune derives from making matchboxes. Because of the death of his more gregarious twin brother, and expected inheritor of the family business, expectation shifts toward August for continuing in the family way, if only he can produce a male heir. The only teensy-weensy problem being his sexuality, which his family has no clue.
Camelle (Elle) feels trapped by her mother’s unhappiness brought on by her husband, Camelle’s father, departing the family home when his daughter was just a young girl. However, unlike her mother who remains in a morbid funk because of this loss, Camelle is practical and prone to starting over if obstacles get in her way. A never truer definition of spring. However, it is her childhood connection to the third of this merry band that has left her mostly in a tizz.
Solomon presents as the jocular, proverbial light of the party, who “women never had a problem shedding their clothes for… while men loved to converse with him over drinks.” However, amidst this summery gravitas is an unhappy soul ashamed for not completing his nautical education, and concerned for a lack of personal ambition, and, of course, abandoning Camille when she was most in need.
The last of the foursome, Winnie, is the loner, without a family to call her own, who eventually, in ways unexpected, brings the four together. She is frosty toward others, until…well, to divulge too much here would be to spoil an important and unexpected part of the narrative. But I will say, Winnie struggles with trust, having to hide her circumstances, which include sleeping rough and, always the outsider, wanting a life of normalcy and love.
In terms of form, the novel does a very good job of delivering fun whimsy and rhyme, while the rendering of these characters is full and entertaining. But, for this reviewer, a few things detract. Namely, I’d love more about the titular Squid! It begins as the stuff of legend and remains elusive throughout. We know these characters believe in its worth, as this propels the narrative, but it does not invite readers to participate in this conviction. If the intention is a MacGuffin, it remains a bit undercooked.
For those looking for a full-length novel not boxed into fixed distinctive categories, but offering some delicious moments of rhyme and whimsy while exploring relatable human frailties, this is a work I would highly recommend.
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