Sunday, October 25, 2009

Revisiting Ariel, awaiting Elegy Beach

I've been in autumn clean-up mode, and to make more efficient space in our apartment, I've been boxing up books I can't bear to part with but don't reread frequently. The books still on the shelves are, by and large, those I return to again and again, rereading them annually: Laurie R. King's Mary Russell series (Beekeeper's Apprentice is my favorite, but I usually end up rereading the whole series), Obsidian Butterfly (the only novel in the Anita Blake series I go back to again and again), and nonfiction reference books for hypnosis, writing, religion, and marketing.

A very few books remain on the shelves that I seldom read. Like lighthouses on a rock, they mark the contours of my life. Who I was. Why I am who I am.

So when Tyler Sperry alerted me that Steven R. Boyett's Ariel had ben reprinted, I had mixed emotions. First, I was thrilled. Steve is a terrific writer, Ariel is a terrific book, and to have it reprinted 20 years after its publication - well, that's incredible and wonderful. I felt disappointed, because I was sure I'd have to dig it out of a box. Why couldn't I have gotten the news just a little sooner?

It was right there on the bookshelf. I pulled it down and turned it over, wondering why I didn't box it. I don't think I've read it but once, when it was first published. Just touching again it awakened the emotions it carved into my heart all those years ago: wonder, love, and pain.

I wondered how it would hold up. I wondered if I dared read it again.

I did. It holds. It's a classic.

The language still takes my breath away. The smell of sweat and smoke, grass and peppermint, rise from the pages. Nothing is harder to write (or easier for me to skip) than a fight scene, and Ariel has a lot of them. Each reveals character and moves the story forward emotionally. I didn't skip a single one. The faerie-meets-mundane is one of my favorite fantasy sub-genres, and 20 years later, Boyett's vision remains fresh. I'd forgotten the humor. I'd forgotten George. I'd not forgotten how emotionally solid and true the book felt.

So why do I reread Ariel so seldom, when it's such a timeless, beautiful book? Why not pull it down every year or two, like Emma Bull's War for the Oaks?

It's those last couple of chapters. On my first reading, they seemed out of place, as though they belonged to a different book. They simply didn't seem to fit. Today, I feel less of that old disbelief than a melancholy resonance with my own endings - friends lost, loves dead, homes left behind. I read it now and whisper, "Of course; it couldn't have happened any other way," instead of, "Are you kidding me????"

What a gift! To find that a book I once loved and feared has grown with me. It's a testament to Boyett's mastery of craft that I fear Ariel less and love it more, that the laughter is still genuine and the pain walks hand-in-hand with wisdom. The promise of the sequel is tantalizing, because I never felt Pete and Ariel's story was finished. I'm eager for Elegy Beach.