: our statement
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 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
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.
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
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."
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.