Paleo Retiree writes:
“When Libby Met the Fairies and her Whole Life Went Fae” by friend-of-this-blog Kirsten Mortensen is like a chicklit version of a Tom Perrotta or Nick Hornby novel — a likable, touching and appreciative seriocomic look at human-scale lives and (mostly) familiar predicaments. It’s a lightweight, quickly-read entertainment, but it’s something a little more than that too.
Let me make a confession that will no doubt wreck my otherwise unassailable Alpha-male status: Over the years I’ve looked at a lot of chicklit. Hey, a new literary genre was a-borning — and how often do you get a chance to witness that? Plus: I’ve learned a lot about women by sampling the entertainment that many of them enjoy. (The two chicklit novels I can sincerely recommend — Mortensen’s book makes three — are two of the genre’s earliest entries: Laura Zigman’s “Animal Husbandry” and Helen Fielding’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary.” They’re genuinely fun.) The good side of chicklit: it’s a fine platform for talented ladies who want to show off their charm, their brains, their style and their spirit. Some of the bad sides of chicklit, at least as the commercial-publishing world often puts it out there: the books do get formulaic; they peddle and cater to narcissism, not the most endearing of traits; and the character types you run into are limited and predictable. How many sassy and amazing “Sex in the City”-style groups-of-friends can one world bear?
Mortensen’s novel, which is indie-published, brings a lot of freshness to the table. Its story is a whimsical romcom tale of attempted rebirth, but it has an errant, wobbly distinctiveness. Her heroine Libby — a recently-divorced biologist who’s hoping to make a new life for herself as an organic farmer — is a smart and resourceful modern woman, but she’s also got a lot of plain-Jane, nice-girl qualities too, as well as a nerdy and ditzy side. (Not an unusual combo, I’ve found. You may have grown up and gone to school with girls like Libby — I certainly did.) And Mortensen has given the book an unusual setting: the action takes place in western New York State, and the regional details are a joy. You can’t get much further from the world of “Sex in the City” than Dansville, N.Y. (Trust me on this — I grew up a few miles from Dansville.)
Mortensen is charmingly persuasive about what a mess day-to-day life tends to be — about the way, no matter how streamlined and focused our intentions, we inevitably wind up floundering our way through — as well as about women’s internal processes: the rhythms and patterns of how they feel, think, and sense things. (She’s also frank and relaxed about all this — no showing-off, and no politicizing of what doesn’t need to be politicized.) Libby’s job is sort of absurd, yet she’s OK with it, mostly, and besides she needs the money. She’s been cheated-on in marriage, she’s uncertain about her dreams, she’s torn between different men, she can’t bring herself to tell off a bossy older sister, and yet she keeps moving forward. When a teenaged niece arrives on her doorstep — and especially when fairies and elves start showing up and sharing gardening advice — things proceed to spiral out of control. In the midst of the chaos, is a fulfilling new life even a possibility?
Mortensen develops her story in semi-farce, semi-Rube-Goldberg fashion. More than once I found myself thinking, “This is like early Zemeckis and Gale, only female.” By which I meant: where Zemeckis and Gale keep piling on the frenetic action and cleverness, the narrative house of cards that Mortensen builds consists of situations, feelings, emotional pulls and tugs, and doubts. (She has her own brand of fluffily giddy ingenuity.) And, unlike many of the chicklit authors whose books I’ve thumbed through — who seem more interested in writing yakky Me!-Me!-Me! magazine pieces than in creating believable fictional worlds — Mortensen has the real fiction-creator’s spark: the characters (even the male characters) are convincing, and the situations (even at their most contrived) are alive. She has a beguiling, blessedly unlabored touch as a prose stylist too. From sentence to sentence it’s really fun accompanying Libby’s mind, sensations and feelings.
Warmly recommended for anyone in the mood for high-quality, down-to-earth light entertainment.