As the young student of the cruel, brilliant artist Vincent Rushkin, Isabelle Copley discovered that she could paint images so vividly real they brought her wildest fantasies to life. But when the forces she unleashed brought tragedy to those she loved, she turned her back on her talent and her dreams.Now, 20 years later, Isabelle must come to terms with the shattering memories she has long denied and unlock the slumbering power of her brush. And, in a dark reckoning with her old master, she must find the courage to live out her dreams and bring the magic back to life. This is a tale of love, courage, and the transforming power of imagination.
"In de Lint's capable hands, modern fantasy becomes something more than escapism. It becomes folk song, the stuff of urban myth." (Phoenix Gazette) "[B]eautifully evokes a sense of creative community, making it almost possible to believe that the rarified aesthetic atmosphere might well be capable of conjuring up a spirit or two." (Publishers Weekly) "[M]oves gracefully through the borders between reality and imagination, weaving a powerful tale about the relationship between an artist and her work. A strong addition to fantasy collections." (Library Journal)
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Although I had heard of Charles de Lint for years and had read some of his short stories, this is my first book, so I write this to those of you who might come in cold and consider this book.
First, the book takes a LOOOONNGGG time to get started -- I had to start over a few times because I lost track of what was going on (and it's a long book). It also takes a long while before any fantasy element emerges, but the writing is so fresh and the characters so compelling, that eventually this book met my test of a wonderful audio book -- when you sit in your garage listening to it in the car because you can't wait to get back to it.
The long beginning is worth it, as this becomes my introduction into what I see now is a rich world that gets revisited in several of his books (all set in the artist community of Newford).
I rarely write reviews and, as a die-hard Stephen King fan, find few books that are as compelling, but this one sings after awhile, and is well worth the wait.
The first chapter of Charles de Lint's Memory and Dream (1994), one of his many urban fantasy works set in the big fictional city of Newford, consists of a magical description of a painting in which a woman is reading a glowing book, while around her hover or perch myriad fairy-like figures. Are they real? "Or perhaps they are shadows only, and the summer's night that lies outside her window belongs not to memory, but to dream?"
The story itself begins with the great opening line of the second chapter: "Catharine Mulley had been dead five years and two months the morning Isabelle received the letter from her." Isabelle Copley is an artist of abstract paintings inspired by cityscapes, though she is seemingly living alone on wild Wren Island. She has much buried traumatic unfinished past business involving Cathy and their former mutual friend, the small literary local press editor Alan Grant, as well as her former Jekyll and Hyde "troll" of a genius artist teacher, Vincent Rushkin, her enigmatic Native American ex-boyfriend John Sweetgrass, and a fire that ended a lot of things. Cathy's letter, which she sent two days before her death by cancer, has arrived with a key to a locker in the Newford bus station. The letter and key, along with Alan's request for Isabelle to illustrate an omnibus collection of Cathy's urban faerie stories, set in motion a chain of events that thrust the artist into "the untidy tangle of dreams and memories." Into that story in the present of the early 1990s, de Lint suspensefully works the past story of the traumatic events in the 1970s that cut Isabelle off from Alan and Rushkin and John.
The first two thirds of the novel caught me. The conceit of the book, that a select number of gifted artists are able to paint into our world benign or malignant "numena" (spirits) who cannot bleed or dream but are real nonetheless, is fresh, the relationships between Isabelle and Cathy, Rushkin, and John are compelling, the mystery behind the fire that changed everything is potent, the revelations stun, and the speech and actions of the characters (though often irritating) feel right. Too, the themes about student-mentor and victim-abuser relationships, love, the impossibility of knowing what another person is thinking, the presence or absence of magic in the everyday world, the nature of being real and being human, and the roles of technique, talent, inspiration, passion, and responsibility in artistic creation, are all passionately treated. Throughout, de Lint sprinkles numinous descriptions, as when Alan thinks an underdressed gamine who visits him at night was "a vivid dream, the kind that seems so real it's like a memory," as well as moments of epiphany in which suddenly everything changes and anything becomes possible: "It was as though the carpet underfoot had suddenly dropped a few inches, settling like an elevator at a new floor." There are quietly moving scenes, too, as when Alan tells Isabelle that he thought that she had modeled all her female figures in paintings on Cathy.
Approaching and enduring the climax in the last third of the novel, however, de Lint tries too hard to generate suspense by writing too many manipulative cliffhanger point of view shifts and scene changes, even to the extent of abusing his neat numena concept, all of which decreases suspense and increases critical awareness. For in the last part of the novel his writing loses authenticity. The worst cases involve supporting characters whose points of view are excrescent, like Detective Davis, who talks like a sheriff or cop on a soon to be canceled TV show: "The only reason I'm going along with you is because I know you folks are straight shooters, but if you're dicking me around we're going to be playing twenty questions down at the precinct. Take that as a serious promise, lady." Necessary supporting characters like Marisa perform abrupt changes from irritating skepticism and weakness ("We're talking real life, not fairy tales") to unbelievable belief and strength ("Alan . . . For god's sake, go to her"). And while de Lint is excellent at getting in the heads of artist types, especially when depicting their theories and processes of creation, not to mention their non-action-hero qualities (as when Alan feebly picks up a rusty tire iron without knowing what to do with it), his main characters lose plausibility when pushed too far (nearly to absurdity), as when Alan feels "a savagery he hadn't known he possessed" or Isabelle dives at a monster. Action scenes yank de Lint out of his comfort zone, reflected by the fact that most of the bad lines and unconvincing things happen in the latter third of the novel, as when some teen gang members, sporting hoodies and spouting "homeys," make a cameo appearance rendered unnecessary by subsequent events.
Kate Reading reads the novel with her usual flavor, clarity, and sensitivity, doing fine with female and male characters alike--apart from some uncomfortable moments as with Detective Davis and the "gangbangers."
Be all that as it may, Memory and Dream is often rich and moving, often a heady pleasure. If you are interested in the mental and emotional and physical workings of artists and writers et al, as well as in socio-political matters like child abuse, gender, class, poverty, and charity, all mixed in a modern city in which magic lies just around the corner, this book would probably work for you.