Monday, January 30, 2012

Waiting for the Magic, by Patricia MacLachlan

     I am afraid – and it pains me to say it – this book just doesn't feel like MacLachlan. Maybe she's been moving in this direction and I just didn't know it...the most recent book I've read by her was Baby, published 19 years ago. But Baby, Journey, and the Sarah, Plain and Tall series all had something this book didn't. They each contained a story that dealt with loss, pain, and how people who share in mourning or rejoicing relate to each other. The older books do it in a way that does not talk down to kids, which is something I've always admired. And also, there are no machinations or devices to carry the plot along – the move on their own, carried by the spare writing and the heavy, but not heavily exposed, emotion.
     But in Waiting for the Magic...of all things...talking dogs! Not just dogs that look smart, or behave as though they had something to say. Talking dogs! And they were totally unnecessary. Will and Elinor's dad would still have come home and buckled down and been a responsible father and husband without the aid of four mismatched hounds sending thought waves to everyone in the family. The characters were good, true to original MacLachlan form, original and believable and dimensional. The four-year-old is bright but goofy, and the ten-year-old is reserved and reluctant to believe and to forgive. The parents are less interesting and immature – not, I suppose, atypical of real life.
     And then, did I mention this? There are four talking dogs. These dogs bring magic into the home and set the world to rights, and destroy the story. It might be good for a family to have a dog, it could bring a sort of common ground to people who are distraught, and serve to bring together children and parents in caring for this animal. But under no circumstances can a dog tell a person what color coat it wants, whether your mom is going to have a baby, and how to get your dad to straighten up and fly right. Dogs are not counsellors. They are not little furry angels doling out advice. They do not have some higher understanding that their owners are incapable of achieving without their assistance. They are just plain ol' dogs.
     What I enjoyed so much about MacLachlans' earlier works was the strength and resilience of the human spirit in her characters. They encountered great trials, and they overcame. They worked through things on their own, or with other characters, to get through the hard times and start enjoying the good times again. They had dignity and strength and worked hard and were able to make changes. Waiting for the Magic has very little in common with those books, and it's an unfortunate thing.

3 comments:

  1. That....is really weird. I mean, it's one thing if it's fantasy. It sounds like this genre I found out about in college (because honestly...who would have known about this?) called magical realism. In fact, we read a book by Toni Morrison (I hope I'm spelling that right) that was in the magical realism camp. And it completely confused me. We were reading about an African-American lad coming of age and suddenly at the end of the book he goes for a fly. As in....he flies...not in a plane. Just...flying. And you are left going, what? Does this mean something else? Are we supposed to think he "rose above his circumstances" or what?

    Aaaanyways, this wouldn't mean much to you because I believe this was a teensy weensy bit before your time, (almost before mine) but there is an old band called Ace of Base and they have a song called "Waiting for Magic," and now it's stuck in my head, and I'm very unhappy. hahaha!

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  2. Well, I give greater allowance for bizzaro things like talking dogs in children's books. But not all children's book have such untoward occurrences, and I was surprised to find it in a MacLachlan book. Sarah, Plain and Tall is nothing like that! I think it's because I was so completely taken aback by this author's use of such weirdness that I was so disappointed.

    Ace of Base? It's like you're talking a different language.

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    1. I'd feel totally old right now except that I know that even if they were popular now there's a high probability you would never hear them.
      And yes, that is a weird element to have in a MacLachlan book.

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