In Essence
: agreement
: explanation
: members
: our statement

Media Reviews
: books
: films
: comics
: games

: essays
: yowlings

: courts

Media Review : Books

by Sean Stewart
Paperback edition: ISBN 0-441-00644-2
Published by Ace Fiction in hardcover in August 1998.
Republished in paperback in September, 1999, $14 American
Review by Kyth.


"There are some gifts which cannot be refused."

The Essentials:

Noted Figures:

The main character is that of Antoinette 'Toni' Beauchamp, whose recently deceased mother has given redefinition to the term 'inheritance' by handing down the figures who have ridden her body until death. Less deities, and yet more than personalities, these Riders are strongly reminiscent of the voudoun loa. Yet readers who seek the familiar faces of the Guede and Damballa must turn elsewhere; these small gods are uniquely owned by--and owners of--the Beauchamp line.

As intangible as the Riders, and yet as forcibly present, Elena Beauchamp--Toni's mother--demonstrates her odd and tangled nature despite her technical death. Stewart weaves past recollections of Elena through Toni's present life, blurring the line between the living and the dead, the real and possibly imaginary.

The Riders, in their wild array, are as follows:

Mockingbird: As much an imitator as her namesake, Mockingbird sings the voices of other people in an irreverent display. Her fetish is that of a hand puppet, sewn from a glove of leather and mockingbird skins.
The Preacher: His fetish is a doll made from a cross, with a dog's skull on top and a child's black coat around. He is as religious as his name implies, with all the hard cruelty of the righteous.
Sugar: She is a good natured flirt. She enjoys flattery and the company of beautiful people, regardless of gender. Her doll is that of a regular girl's toy, with eyes of green and the ears of a cat.
Pierrot: Mercurial in nature, his jokes can swing from light to sharp and cruel in the space between a breath. His fetish is that of a harlequin doll.
The Widow: Dispassionate about the Beauchamp family, she is yet the only one of the Riders to take a devoted interest in it. Her fetish is formed from a test tube filled with dried spiders, topped by a red pincushion for a head.
Mr. Copper: Much like the Widow, he is calculating and chill in manner. His specialty is that of finances and numbers. The fetish which represents him is that of a carved, wooden statue, which had been polished until it shone.
The Lost Little Girl is not truly a Rider, but rather, makes her way along the outskirts of the territory of the unconscious. She is a ghost, and yet not--a memory, and a person yet to be.

Or maybe, a little voice whispered, you will mother in the only way you know how. You will be another crazy Beauchamp woman, driven half-mad by Riders, only this time there won't be any Daddy to shelter your baby. It will have no protection from you at all. You use to be sane, you used to be in control. But now the Riders can get into you. Maybe Sugar will whore you out next time, or the Preacher will beat your child for its sins. You are out of control, Antoinette. You are no safer than Elena now.

The Gist:

But I promise you, worshipping the Riders was the farthest thing from her mind. They were Life's collection agents. When Momma drew too much on her gifts, the Riders would take their due. Unless you worship the IRS, drop the whole idea that Momma loved her gods.

One day in midwinter, I looked up to find Sammi slapping a midsized paperback down on my newspaper. "It's a gift. Read it," she growled, "and review it for us."

... As I recall, she also then had me buy rounds at the local coffeehouse. The tab rolled up to far more than the book itself, guided to monolithic proportions by Caramel Mocha Lattes--

(ed note from Sammi: Uh... well... I wouldn't call thirty dollars monolithic. *sweatdrop* Okay, maybe we might have taken the eensiest advantage of poor K.)

--but I hardly noticed, wrapped up in my perusal of the novel. Stewart, like Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, pulls off the remarkable trick of writing such a solid female character that I continually look back to the cover, uncertain as to if Sean is still a name given to males alone. The linguistical choices evoke the summer murk of the South so vividly that I almost hear the bullfrogs croaking slow songs outside my window. With only the poetry of words harsh and short, Stewart scripts wonders.

"I would like to see you one time when your head started to ache and you went dizzy and Sugar murdered you with the smell of peaches. I'd like to see just how much you'd like it. I'd like to see how you would feel three hours later when you woke up and found you had whored yourself to the gas station attendant."

How many of us can agree with this?

Reading about how Toni manages with the Widow at the edge of her nerves, affecting her vision with cynicism and whispering sour thoughts, I can remember my own times with the rest of the Court.

"I used to think that there was only one true person living in a body, one truth surrounded by a pack of lies. Now I know I was wrong. We are all of us a hundred different selves, mothers and daughters, busy professionals and lazy housekeepers, zealous reformers and incumbents on the take. And each of these women is true in her turn. Each of us is a mockingbird."

Final Verdict:

Give into impulse. Pick it up. I loved this tale of a strong woman and her companions inside and out, and many of us agree with me.