Sunday, July 17, 2016

Catherine Egan

Catherine Egan grew up in Vancouver, Canada – a beautiful city nobody in her right mind would ever leave, but leave she did, and you may draw the obvious conclusions about her mind. Since then, she has lived on a wee volcanic island in Japan (which erupted during her time there and sent her hurtling straight into the arms of her now-husband), Tokyo, Kyoto, Beijing, an oil rig in the middle of China’s Bohai Bay, New Jersey, and now Connecticut, where she writes books and defends the Eastern seaboard from invading dragon hordes alongside her intrepid warrior-children.

Egan's new novel is Julia Vanishes.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I bought Helen Oyeyemi’s collection of short stories, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, because I loved her novel Boy, Snow, Bird. Sometimes short story writers stumble writing novels, and not all novelists can write short stories, but Helen Oyeyemi can do both. I think she can probably do everything. There is no weak link in this collection, which makes equally deft use of odd fairytale settings, modern England, elements of sci fi, magic realism and straight up contemporary realism. Each story left me unsatisfied, but in a stunned and wide awake kind of way. She is the sort of writer that shakes you up and makes everything look different for a long time after you’ve finished the book. The book feels like a puzzle: characters recur from one story to another and the stories all feature locks and keys in one way or another. As soon as I finished, I wanted to reread it, feeling sure that one story contained the key to unlocking another. The standout story was about a group of young puppeteers and their puppets, called "Is Your Blood As Red As This?" To me, at least, it seemed to be saying something very profound about the creative life, but none of these stories really lets you put your finger on their deepest undercurrents. The sense of disequilibrium her work gives me, though, doesn’t mean that her writing is “difficult.” The book is a page-turner, her characters are vividly alive and she is funny, too. I read about half the book sprawled on the sofa late at night, forgetting my drink until all the ice had melted, and the other half at the frog pond, while my children got themselves thoroughly wet and muddy and failed to catch a frog.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours was a hard book to follow, but I went with Fran Wilde’s Updraft. I wanted to read it because I loved so many of the YA nebula nominees this year and was of course curious about the book that had beaten out some of my own favorites. Updraft features one of the most inventive fantasy worlds I’ve ever read, about a civilization of people that fly on artfully constructed wings, living in ever-growing bone towers that have grown far above the clouds, all of it controlled by the Spire and the Singers who make the laws and traditions but have terrible secrets of their own. It’s a gripping adventure story and I loved the main character, her ambition, her adaptability, and her loyalty, but it is really the incredibly ambitious, flawless world-building that makes this book stand out above other SFF novels. I am also a big fan of monsters, and the skymouths in this book are my favorite new fictional monsters. I read much of the book poolside, ignoring friends who came to chat (thanks for understanding, friends) and finished it on a very windy day at the beach.
Visit Catherine Egan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Julia Vanishes.

--Marshal Zeringue