I love a book that puts me in a place I’ve never been before with people I’ve never met—By George did just that. The novel’s opening starts with a ventriloquist act, waiting in the wings to take their places on stage. That brief prologue ends with, “The great ventriloquist is more than an illusionist; he is a creator, a dream maker, a god. And I should know: I’m his dummy.” How enchanting is that? With that, the promise of a delightful novel was offered up.
The novel winds its way in and out and in-between a great stage family. Enter Echo Ender, grand dame; Joe, her son; Queenie, her daughter-in-law; Frankie, her granddaughter; and George, her great-grandson. Add to the slate of humans, the dummies, or dolls, or, as the Fisher family prefers, “boys”: Narcissus, Pipsqueak, George, and (a rarity) a “girl” named Belle. This is one family whose secrets are many and whose fathers are more often than not, missing.
While the back story of Echo Ender’s great fame, is interesting, it is the story of George, her great grandson, that takes front and center. George is the one member of the family who self-consciously watches from the wings—literally and figuratively. And the family drama that he sees played out leads him to unravel the story of a missing aunt, a father presumed dead, and a grandfather long thought to be killed in World War II. It’s almost as if thisGeorge (named after his grandfather’s boy) is the one character in the novel who refuses to accept the script of his life at face value—and in doing so unwittingly re-writes his family’s story … but only after finding (and also losing) his own voice.
While the novel’s opening intrigued me, it was a chore, at first, to keep track of three generations of stage acts: names, places, theaters, acts. And truth be told, it probably took me almost eighty pages to reach that sweet spot where I felt compelled to read, where the book beckoned me away from lesson plans, dinner preparations, and laundry. I’m slow that way. But By George is a fantastic story, one thick with motifs of storyand voice and act.
( I loved it, Denise!)
Next up: I just started reading The Tiger’s Wife. I’m already hooked, yet more than a little ashamed that my fascination with all things geopolitical hadn’t yet been born during the Balkan conflict and I am a bit lost figuring out who is whom in this Balkan country. I’ve just met the deathless man and, myth or no, magical realism or not, I’m enjoying myself immensely.