Thursday, June 18, 2015

Fantasy or magical realism? Book Review: The Book of Speculation by Erka Swyler

Expected publication: June 23, 2015
by St. Martin's Press
How long can you hold your breath? Simon Watson can hold his breath for up to 10 minutes according to The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. He gets this ability from his mother who taught him how to do it. His mother worked as a "mermaid" in a traveling carnival. He shares this ability with his sister Enola, a tarot card reader who is in a traveling carnival. 
One summer, Simon gets an old book in the mail. It appears to be the log book of a traveling show. From reading the book, Simon concludes that it is entirely possible that the family has been cursed. He is worried about his sister Enola in particular and how the curse could affect her. The women in his family seem to drown on July 24th which is only weeks away. This is in spite of their having "mermaid" capabilities. The women in his family also appear to have an uncanny ability to read tarot cards. What can Simon do to prevent Enola from following in the footsteps of their mother into the ocean on the 24th?
The book alternates between the present and the past. Simon, a reference librarian, and his sister Enola are the subjects of the present day parts. The past is mostly about Amos and Evangeline and the show that they travel with. I found both stories to be interesting. One wasn't really any less important than the other.
Do you call it fantasy because it has parts in it that seem unreal? Things that have to do with the curse and passing it down to generations of the family. Or is it magical realism because it is generally fiction with one magical element involved? In my opinion, I consider it magical realism. It reminds me in some ways of what Alice Hoffman writes. Everything is pretty much normal except for this one area where you are invited to suspend your disbelief.
The characters are well developed. Simon especially is well developed as the real main character. The others are developed to a slightly lesser extent, but still come across for the most part as real people. Each has their own wants, needs, and growth.
The pace reminded me a little bit of a wave approaching shore. It gradually increased speed as the book got closer to the end. 
The writing itself was well done. I had no problem as a former library technician identifying with Simon and his career. In fact, there may have been times I over-identified and it affected my moods. While reading when I took breaks, it took me a few minutes to come back to my surroundings and what was going on. It was smoothly written and engrossing.
I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars because of the quality of the writing, the character development, and the pace. 
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.