Who didn’t have ghosts? And she was diminishing, changing–her face momentarily strange in the glass. She had hold of the tail end of middle age; she was an attractive woman, often mistaken for one much younger. Her hair still shone black, with only sparse threads of snow, and her skin was unwrinkled. There might be something left for her, here in the gatehouse beyond the village. Hadn’t she long ago combed her hair with the teeth of pain, eaten the poisoned apple, and married the prince of fire? What more could hurt her now?
I picked up Glimmerglass by Marly Youmans, thinking it was a fantasy written by a poet. That’s exactly what it proved to be, but it took reading three quarters of the book to get there. Most of the time the fantasy might be simply metaphor. I mean, a house with seven doors and talk of Snow White doesn’t actually bring dwarves into the story. But elements of fairy magic and oddness, as we read in Lars’s novels and other deep-rooted fantasies, abound.
Cynthia Sorrel arrives at the village of Cooper Patent on the southern tip of Glimmerglass lake (a fictional variation of Cooperstown, “America’s Most Perfect Village,” on the southern tip of Ostego Lake in New York. Village and lake call back to James Fenimore Cooper). She’s open to renting the gatehouse but has no real plans for anything yet. She’s just lost. The spritely, frail-looking caretaker who gives her the keys talks her into staying by assuming no alternatives.
Cynthia keeps to herself for a while and slowly begins to connect to the quirky people in the village, the vicar’s wife first, the Wild brothers, and later the vicar himself. The Wilds turn out to be her landlords, and with them come the main fantasy elements. Their mansion is a labyrinth of rooms that butts into the forest hill. There’s a locked door into the hill, a curious aura radiating from it. One of the Wild cousins went through that door many years ago and was never seen again. And there’s a pale, shirtless boy who stares at her from the woods before disappearing into them. Is that the ghost she felt must be lurking in a house or village like this?
Glimmerglass the novel may be like Glimmerglass the lake. It’s beautiful from the shore, warm, inviting, even with hints of danger and mystery, and alien, if not weird, under the surface. When Cynthia falls into the icy lake, metaphorically speaking, she emerges among chain-smoking ghosts, feathered angels with parasols, minotaurs, and palace dance halls. Sure, it sounds trippy, but it works beautifully well.
Read about this and her many other books on Marly’s blog.