Title: Worlds Enough & Time
Author: Dan Simmons
Subterranean Press, Eos/HarperCollins / 272 pages / May 2002
It’s quite possible that only someone raised in the Deep South will ever reallyunderstand it. Not the transplanted South of factory-built homes for retired steel workers or the New South with its silver towers chasing the out-of-control spread of Atlanta. This is the South that tourists cannot find and newcomers will never see. A land where eccentricity is cherished and magic is just out of sight. This is the place that Sean Stewart is as much a part of as sweet tea and sun showers. And we are fortunate, because he is willing to take us there.
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The Beauchamp family is old Texas, in a huge, rambling house where no one ever thought to put in air conditioning and the doors are left open-wide to the heat and the wanderings of insects. Where the peppers for Tex-Mex cooking hang in the kitchen and the chifforobe in the hall provides a home for the household gods. And the lady of the house provides a body.
Elena Beauchamp has gone, taking her last breath and most of the family’s money to a grand resting place. What’s left? A bequest to a stranger. A slowly deteriorating friend. A bottle of Mockingbird Cordial that older sister Toni grudgingly tastes, only to find herself the new host to the ghosts.
It will take Toni the rest of the book to unravel the mess her mother left their lives in. Along the way, she will have to deal with family jealousies, financial ruin, and secrets long buried. Actually, Toni and her all-star chorus line of gods will handle it, whether she wants their help or not.
Mockingbird captures the dark magic of hidden lives and beliefs the world thinks died out long ago. Stewart lifts the heavy mosquito netting to let us peek into a way of life that has survived the centuries, but may not outlive us. The atmosphere hangs so heavy it blots out the rest of the world, to pull us in completely. It is a place and a way of life that it is wrenching to depart.
And to release the characters is a sweet pain. Some authors can fill an entire novel with insights into their heroes and villains and we know them no better by the last page than in the prologue. If they do not survive, does anyone really care? With a few deceptively simple words, Stewart raises a fully-fleshed human creature. And as each character forms, it is obvious that this world could not exist without them; no matter how small their contribution, it is essential.
Heroes and villains don’t exist, only people.
Mockingbird is magic. The last page appears far too soon and leaves us wondering how the intervening chapters vanished. We don’t want the story — or the magic — to end. If only the world could really be like that. Don’t tell anyone, but it really is.