Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Girl in Landscape

by Jonathan Lethem

I guess this is speculative fiction, since it isn't cataloged as science fiction. Future, space travel, extrasolar colonization, aliens... but somehow not sci-fi. The story doesn't have to be set on another planet, it could easily be re-worked as a western or in any kind of frontier/colonization situation. Except for that one thing, which I can't really tell you about.

In my experience, a lot of sci-fi and fantasy books are coming-of-age stories, whether it's a character growing up or a civilization maturing (or declining). There's a convergence in the liminal aspects of both the transformation narrative and the imaginative effort of writing or reading without reference to conventional reality. Girl in Landscape inhabits the same territory.

It's a fairly breezy read that I think would appeal to teens (the protagonist is a psychologically mature 13-year-old girl), but there's a barely contained complexity that keeps a multitude of themes and potential conclusions afloat. (I'm trying to think of an expressive image, but all I can come up with is a pillowcase full of kittens.) The ending is kind of abrupt, but I suppose it has to be, since it's also the collapse of all those possibilities into a single eventuality.

I don't want to get into the plot too much, but here's the set up: abandoned by both parents (one dead, one abdicated), Pella Marsh moves with her father and younger brothers to a very small human settlement on a planet whose inhabitants are strange remnants of a once-great culture that left their home and took to the stars; transplanted into this environment, she faces the tyranny and the disappointment of adults, while becoming one herself.

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