Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Snicker of Magic (Natalie Lloyd)

Felicity Pickle is a word collector: she sees them swirling around people and she writes them down in her special notebook. Sometimes they're real, sometimes they're not. She is also a drifter. To be more exact, her mother is a drifter--whenever she feels as though she's beginning to settle into whatever town they've wandered to, her mom is ready to take off. Felicity is tired of the lifestyle, so when they wind up in Midnight Gulch, her mother's small, Southern hometown, she can't be more excited. This, she feels, is the place where her family can settle down.

Midnight Gulch, according to our narrator, is a town of magic; the families who have lived here for centuries used to have powers, like invisibility or emotionally-evocative cooking. But the magic dried up some time ago because of two brothers who were cursed by a witch, a curse Felicity wants to break because she believes it will stop her mother's restless travelling. She plans to do so with the help of her new-found friend, Jonah, and the rest of her family.

There was a lot about this book that called out to me. The most prominent of these is the magical realism of Midnight Gulch. I loved the moments in which we discover the backstory of a particular family and their particular power. Lloyd does such a great job using this to achieve surprising emotional depths: one family in particular has the ability to go invisible, and the story is very sad. It's exactly what I want out of my magical realism, to make me feel very real emotions from situations that aren't so real.

But the setting was the only thing that, for me, sparkled. It's possible to accuse the book of being a little aggressively Southern: A Snicker of Magic didn't want us to forget we were in a quaint town where people's big aspirations are to be country music stars. There are other good things in the book--Jonah, who is the town's anonymous do-gooder, was fun to read about, and I really enjoyed Felicity's aunt, Cleo. In fact, most of the characters are interesting and enjoyable, if a little dramatic in their despair.

The glaring exception, unfortunately, is our narrator herself. Felicity reminds me of Holden Caulfield in her constant repetition of certain words and phrases. It's not a technique I'm ever fond of, and I know from my cursory skimming of other reviews that this drove other readers just as crazy as it did me. "Spindiddly" is not a word I care to hear again. Lloyd is also a bit overfond of "uniquely" spreading text over the page, often as a way of ending chapters. It felt like a cheap transitional tool.

When Felicity sees words around people, they appear in a bolded, italicized list. It veers between gimmicky and fascinating, becomes sometimes she describes how the words make her feel, and when Lloyd goes in that direction, I found myself satisfied because they are truly moments of poetic joy. But when the words appear and without commentary, I was more peeved than pleased.

Ultimately, A Snicker of Magic was a good book. It really was. There's magical realism, which is almost always enough to sell me, and a well-fleshed cast of characters and a setting that feels like something from an HBO show (which I mean as a compliment even though I've never watched an HBO show). But it bugged me a little every now and again, and that's why I hesitate to rain down praise.

My rating: 4/5
A Snicker of Magic on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

No comments:

Post a Comment