Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Extra Large Medium

Helen Slavin tells the story of Annie Colville, who has been talking with dead people since her earliest childhood, and can only distinguish them from the living by their chocolate brown wardrobes. Despite her expanded acquaintance, Annie is very much alone, and struggles to deal with first her promiscuous mother and then Evan Bees, who disappeared one day, as she wrestles with the problem of the restless hoards who come to her with unfinished business, such as the Crown Derby china, who's going to let out the cat, and where the shed keys are. Oh, and the Extra Large Medium is her great-great-something grandfather, who cashed in spectacularly on his apparently hereditary gift. Although he wasn't extra-large either.

I have mixed emotions about The Extra Large Medium.

Good things: well written, pleasant voice that moves the story along nicely without bogging down the plot with detritus. Interesting characters, interesting device of plugging in bits of commentary from other characters, some of whom are introduced long after they begin commenting. Satisfactory conclusion, with some startling developments but which were foreshadowed after all.

Bad things: altogether too much crudeness at the beginning, centering around Annie's mother's promiscuity, which is to say, the bedroom door is pretty much left ajar, and swings wide open once. Fortunately, this tawdry story line fades away Annie grows up, along with one chocolate-brown dressed character with an incredibly foul mouth. Then, too, there is a disconcerting tendency for people to drift into homelessness--and I cannot say more without spoiling the plot--but to me that's a somewhat abnormal reaction to the vicissitudes of life. And Annie has a tendency to set off on quests and then abandon them, not because she's achieved any sort of resolution, even in her mind--she just starts doing something else. Is this a part of the character development, or is Ms. Slavin a sloppy constructionist? And, in reference to the Startling Developments (which I will not divulge here), my discerning son points out--what are the odds?

So...I can recommend this with a pair of rather large "if"s: (1) IF you don't mind the supernatural premise, and (2) IF you can look past the crudeness, you could enjoy this unusual story.


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