The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore
|Book Name:||The Weight of Feathers|
|Publisher(s):||A Thomas Dunne Book for St. Martin's Griffin (US) Thomas Dunne Books (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Audiobook / Ebook|
|Genre(s):||YA Magical Realism|
|Release Date:||September 15, 2015 (US) October 13, 2015 (UK)|
My first experience with magical realism is quite possibly something I’ve already forgotten. I read a great deal when I was younger (and still do, though I don’t have as much time to be as undiscriminating as I was then), and part of that reading involved short stories which were very strange and not at all what I was used to. I don’t remember any details about them, but I do remember thinking that they lay somewhere in between reality and fantasy, and thus I couldn’t tell whether or not I liked them. It wasn’t until years later, when I was taking AP Literature, that I was introduced to the term magical realism, though by then I couldn’t remember any of those short stories and only had One Hundred Years of Solitude to connect the term to. Even now, that book (a very good book, might I add) is still what my mind springs to first when someone mentions magical realism, though I recently stumbled across a novel to add to what will hopefully be a rapidly growing list.
The Weight of Feathers is a fantastic example of a modern way to do magical realism. Set in an unspecified part of the United States, it centers on two young adults: Lace Paloma and Cluck Corbeau, both members of traveling performing families that have been feuding for generations. This isn’t just an ordinary feud, but one in which people have died, and as is only to be expected in such feuds, each side blames the other. The feud has grown into outright hatred, with each side believing the other has dark magic which can be used to harm them.
They aren’t entirely wrong. Each family does have magic, though the magic is woven so seamlessly into reality that it could just as easily be nothing more than superstitions and folk tales passed down through generations. It’s possible the Palomas are nothing more than an ordinary family who put on mermaid shows by wearing tails made of fabric and swimming around under a lake, darting away from view just long enough to draw a breath of air. It’s possible the Corbeaus are nothing more than a family of acrobats who are very good at walking along branches with wings strapped to their arms. That in itself would make an interesting story, but there are always constant reminders that the magic of this world is very real, even if only these two families believe it. The Palomas have their escalas, shining scales which they call a gift from a goddess and keep hidden from the rest of the world. The Corbeaus have feathers growing where their hair otherwise would, and sometimes these feathers drift away, terrifying any Paloma they come near.
As with any young adult novel featuring feuding families (or several “more adult” works featuring the same), there is bound to be a forbidden romance. No one will be surprised to learn that Lace and Cluck are drawn to one another, and I expected it from the first few chapters. What I didn’t expect was how the romance would play out. I thought it would be the ordinary sort, with sexual tension just strong enough to be powerful but not so strong that it wouldn’t be allowed in a book for teens and enough romance to make any high school girl swoon. Instead, the author presents a far more interesting romance, one which takes its time playing out and has ties to the pasts of both families. The fact that Lace is afraid of the magia negra said to be part of Cluck’s very nature makes her afraid to touch him, and every time they do touch feels all the more powerful for that fear. The relationship isn’t one of mutual, sudden, sweeping attraction, as in the quintessential story of forbidden love and feuding families, Romeo and Juliet. It’s more hesitant, and for that, it feels more real.
My favorite part of the book, though, had to be how well it combined magical realism with a feeling of modernity. The magical realism I’m used to is best shown by One Hundred Years of Solitude. It feels timeless but takes place quite strictly in the past, and the further you go along, the easier it is to see where in the past it belongs to, even if you can’t place a specific year. The Weight of Feathers, on the other hand, takes place quite solidly in the present, with pickup trucks and girls who talk about running away to Vegas. The author doesn’t root us too firmly in the real world present, though, either by making the characters too much like ordinary high school students or by giving too many details about where and when the story takes place. There is still a layer of separation, created both by the characters’ beliefs in the magic around them and by the adhesive plant that creates a fantastical substance with dangerous potentials. Setting a factory in magical realism could be a recipe for disaster, but the author makes it work beautifully by having it make something that doesn’t exist at all in our world.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes YA novels or to anyone who likes magical realism, and especially to those who (like me) enjoy both. Fans of hardcore Tolkienesque high fantasy may not be as interested in this, but it tells a beautiful story and one I very much enjoyed reading.