Author: Tim Westover
Title: Auraria: A Novel
Publisher: Q&W Publishers (July 10th 2012)
Disclaimer: Received eARC for review purposes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
“"Fact and fancy are intertwined cleverly and seamlessly in a top-notch, thoroughly American fantasy."
--Publishers Weekly, starred review
Water spirits, moon maidens, haunted pianos, headless revenants, and an invincible terrapin that lives under the mountains. None of these distract James Holtzclaw from his employer’s mission: to turn the fading gold-rush town of Auraria, GA, into a first-class resort and drown its fortunes below a man-made lake. But when Auraria’s peculiar people and problematic ghosts collide with his own rival ambitions, Holtzclaw must decide what he will save and what will be washed away.
Taking its inspiration from a real Georgia ghost town, Auraria is steeped in the folklore of the Southern Appalachians, where the tensions of natural, supernatural and artificial are still alive.
"Auraria is like nothing I’ve ever read before except maybe Through the Looking-Glass. Envision Lewis Carroll on a romp through the mountains of Georgia, discovering a land of shimmery mystery and spirits, humble monsters, quirky characters, singing trees and vengeful fish. This whole world has sprung from Tim Westover's brain yet remains firmly and lovingly the real thing, the actual Georgia landscape. The best part is that Tim Westover can really write. I’d give an Aurarian pot of gold to do what he’s done with language in the service of imagination."
--Josephine Humphreys, Hemingway/PEN Award Winner, author of Dreams of Sleep and Rich in Love.” GoodReads’ blurb
I knew from the get-go that Auraria would be a different piece, and I have studied magical realism... I just haven’t read it; not before I was asked to review Auraria, anyway. I liked the experience, though it takes a special level of talent to make it truly enjoyable... Talent that Tim Westover does have.
There’s something that made this book hard to rate, hard to describe, hard to review. It’s definitely not the kind of book you’d want to read in a lazy afternoon or two, not the light read that will flee your mind as soon as it’s out of sight. Auraria is one of those books that stays afterward, that make you think really hard about important things and that doesn’t give you straight answers – but that makes you look for them yourself.
With the kind of plot above, it’d be easy to fall into the typical afternoon TV family flick cliché about nature and kind family reunions versus evil greedy businessmen, but that’s not Auraria. In here, everything is more subdued, more subtle, more nuanced. The bad guys are bad, but not impossible to understand. The lead character can come across as bland... but that’s because he’s the observer, really. Things happen to him and around him, and it takes ages for him to react and to do so with any conviction. Even when he does act of his own volition, sometimes you wonder if that was the right thing, or the right time, or...
You know why I liked that? Because really, how often is that the case if our lives? How often are we confronted with the mysterious, the magical, the unique, just to remain ensconced in our own corner of ordinary concerns, such as finding suppliers for the work underway or dealing with our bosses, with our duties? How often do we stop to think if, perhaps, we should be doing something differently?
Yeah, that’s exactly the beauty of this book. The characters are images, so perhaps they are not as deeply developed as you’d have wanted (then again, the cast is huge... there is literally no time to develop them all!) and the action might be slower. It’s not an action-packed adventure of good guy saves the day, or evil lord underling suddenly finds his moral points. It’s a story populated with Southern folklore, quirky and funny and strange, but it’s also a story we can – and should – take home.
Do I recommend Auraria? Sure thing; do pick it up as soon as you want to find a meaningful, enlightening read.