Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
An enthralling drama that explores the thin line families navigate between love and freedom
Maggie Helmsworth Colton has spent her life obeying the rules of those around her. In childhood, it was her mother, then her husband. Now, at seventy-nine, her children Clair and Roger have decided they know what is best for her. When they sell her beloved home, Maggie has had enough. She is going to live her final years on her own terms or not at all.
Clair and Roger have their own struggles. Clair’s three children and perpetually absent husband have sent her life into disarray. Roger is still trying to come to terms with the grey area between love and social acceptability. Trying to wrangle a mother who is slipping further into dementia as each day passes isn’t a challenge that either of them are up to, but when Maggie disappears from the hospital, it becomes clear they don’t have a choice.
E.B. Moore’s third novel, Loose in the Bright Fantastic, is as shiny a story as the title suggests. It’s a family drama that uses levity to explore some confronting themes. While there are serious issues underlying the story, it is told with irreverent, and sometimes almost slapstick, humor. The story is loosely based on some of the author’s own experiences, which comes through in the love and care the characters have for each other.
This novel explores the ways in which families must navigate the changes that happen as one generation ages. Parents becoming older and needing to be supported by the children they once raised is a universal theme that most people have some understanding of, but Bright Fantastic approaches it in a heartbreakingly human way. It delves into the fears of the adult children, their sense of loss, and the weight of their responsibility. On the flip side, it also examines into the very real loss of autonomy that their mother, Maggie, goes through.
There’s a charming sort of silliness to Bright Fantastic that keeps it from tipping into despair. The antics that Maggie and her superhero-obsessed grandson, Hank, get up to in their individual quests keep the pace churning and the laughs coming.
I love the balance between the characters here. The fact that they’re all trying to do the right thing under increasingly gruelling circumstances. That they’re trying to work their current lives in with the life they’ve suddenly been tipped into. Clair is especially engaging. She’s the only one level-headed enough to see the situation for what it is; to know that her mother is losing parts of herself. And despite having many ongoing issues with her own young family, she realizes that she’s the one who is going to have to find a way to protect Maggie without crushing her.
In some scenes there isn’t much description to understand exactly what’s happening or how the characters are feeling. This is the kind of novel where a few things are meant to be left up in the air because life isn’t as neat as we might like it to be, but at times I did feel scenes underwritten and that some things could have been explored further.
Loose in the Bright Fantastic is a fun romp with an undercurrent of heavy themes. It doesn’t sacrifice either the truth of the story or the hilarity of the scenes, so it feels like it mirrors reality. There is always a bright edge of humor to the darkness, but the reverse is also true; all the light in the novel casts a shadow.
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