Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Memory and Dream (Urban Fantasy)

Art. Mentors. Magic. Being Real. Physical Abuse. Emotional Abuse. Friends. Love. Community. Having a Purpose. Identity. Suicide. Success. Justification of Physical Violence. Power. Control. Acceptance of Different Realities.

Over the last few years I have come to believe more and more that science and religion have failed us. The only real hope for the long term survival of the human race –and for many individuals—is art. I have been in such a deep, deep depression recently that there is no way that I can critique Charles de Lint’s novel Memory & Dreams. I’m not sure whether it is a good or mediocre book. I’m not sure whether I would recommend it. Quite frankly, I’m not sure whether I enjoyed it. What I do know is that in this second book that I have read of De Lint's I continue to admire his commitment to take on tough subjects. I am fascinated that he chose an urban fantasy format to tell this story. The story could have just as easily been told as a science fiction story with parallel universes or a supernatural detective story. Instead he chose to wrap the story around the lives of artists. My depression compromised intellect also knows that there are layers of meaning to this story, I just can’t follow them right now.

The main character in Memory and Dream is Izzy/Isabel, an artist. She is flattered when a renowned artist, Rushkin, discovers her and takes her on as his protégée. His mentoring helps her become an accomplished artist. Right from the beginning of their relationship, we learn that he is controlling. As the story progresses, we learn that he is emotionally and physically abusive. Yet, the abuses are just the overt aspects of his darkness. As Izzy learns more and more from Rushkin, she acquires the ability to create painting that bring numena over from the “before.” Are numena creatures that Izzy has created or are they independent beings for which Izzy has provided a doorway?

The story takes place in two general time periods: roughly, Izzy’s early years as an artist and the present when her friend Alan is trying to convince her to illustrate a volume of Kathy’s stories. Kathy was Izzy’s close friend who died. Why does Isabel insist that Kathy died of cancer when Alan know that Kathy killed herself? Who set that fire that destroyed all of Izzy’s most cherished paintings? The destruction of the paintings killed Izzy’s numenas, who were like children to her, and caused her to withdraw from the world. What is the true nature of Rushkin’s relationship to Izzy? How will Izzy’s friendships be affected when the truth about the paintings is known? Can Izzy/Isabel survive the truth about her past?

Memory and Dreams is an early book in Charles de Lint’s Newport series. Having the same setting and some familiar characters as the earlier book of short stories gave me a sense of “coming home” when I read this book. While the characters from the earlier book take on minor roles, it is nice to see them again. Even if I wanted to, I think it would be very hard to get ahold of all the books in the series. Unlike some of my other favorite series, it doesn’t appear to matter. The punchline is that Newport is filled with magic for those willing to see it, period.

Despite my surface level ambivalence about Memory and Dream, part of me positively responded to the book. I want to read more, not necessarily because I’m drawn to the magic, but because I’m drawn to the universal messages clothed in the magic. Like the numena in Memory and Dreams, I don’t think any of us really understands what it is to be real, but we have to try our darndest to live it.

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