Only toward the end of this novel was my credibility challenged. Karen Joy Fowler has a penchant for the incredible, both in reality and imagination. She combines them irresistibly in this fabulous novel, which I’d use in my Developmental English class next fall if the language wasn’t so challenging. This aspect of the book–the fabulously descriptive vocabulary–enhanced my own reading experience but I’m not sure my students could handle it.
How to describe this book? It’s the story of a Chinese railway worker in the West and a mysterious woman in an apparently seamless black dress who doesn’t speak but seems to inspire just about everyone, good and bad, to follow her. It’s sort of a grown-up Wizard of Oz story, as everyone heads for the Golden City, San Francisco, and their adventures along the way never fail to entertain. Even Emily Dickinson is enlisted as inspiration for every fictional chapter.
How did I miss this book, published fifteen years ago? I recommend it as a great summer read, travel read, or sick leave balm–any time you can drop everything without getting fired.
(PS…inspired by this author, I also bought and read another of her books, Before Women Had Wings. I hated this book…endless pages of child and wife abuse. There is a happy ending, but so what? It came too late for me. Perhaps this novel would appeal to persons who can more closely identify than I can.)