Fiction: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler
Published 04/07/2016 | 02:30
On a Long Island clifftop being eaten away by the ceaseless clawing of the elements, lives Simon Watson, a meek and mild librarian who is feeling the passing away of his father and mother. Simon’s sister Enola, wild, brash and gifted at Tarot, returns to the family home from her life as a circus performer. If a disintegrating house and an unhinged sister wasn’t enough to be dealing with, Simon is also hit with job cuts at the local town library.
And then a strange antique book turns up on his doorstep one day. In its 200-year-old pages, Simon discovers a phantasmagorical saga recounted, one of circus freaks, dark arts and forbidden romance. He becomes obsessed with the story, vapours of which seem to reach out into his own existence and which could solve the riddle of why it is that the female members of his family have a history of always drowning on the 24th of July. That this date is days away and his sister is back home now seems like more than just an eerie coincidence.
Long Islander Erika Swyler’s debut toggles chapter-by-chapter between the real-world investigations and personal dramas of Simon and the macabre fable contained within the dusty volume. The brew increases its potency as the two dimensions begin to call out to one another. Here, Swyler perhaps overcooks things a little as the magical-realism balance tilts erratically.
What’s more, Simon is also a slappably feeble protagonist to be asked to get behind, one who comes to feel a little bit like an unenthusiastic salesman for Swyler’s bibliophilic medicine show.
What can’t be faulted, however, is the mercury-like roll of her language, which is the most bewitching spell on show here. It suggests a fruitful career should she locate that killer yarn.
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