Fair Peril

by Nancy Springer
Avon, tpb, 246 pages, $12.00
ISBN: 0-380-78413-0

Nancy Springer is coming off of two terrific books, Larque on the Wing and Metal Angel, so I had high expectations for Fair Peril. Thematically, the book is very similar to the preceding pair, built around a middle-aged parent estranged from his or her family, who is forced to reexamine life after becoming involved with (and in the cases of Larque and Fair Peril, causing) supernatural happenings. All three novels are about family, love, and the relationship between childhood and adulthood. All three have strong homoerotic elements. Unfortunately, Fair Peril doesn't measure up to either of the novels that preceded it.

The novel is built around fairy tale tropes. Buffy is a would-be professional storyteller, divorced for a year from her lawyer/politician ex-husband, who she has refused to accept any money from (and who has remarried a blond named Tempestt). Her sixteen-year-old youngest daughter lives with her father, and her Alzheimer's-stricken mother is in a nursing home. While wandering through a park, Buffy comes across a talking frog, who claims to be a prince and asks her to kiss him. Buffy takes him home, but refuses to kiss him--she decides she doesn't need another male in her life telling her what to do.

Her daughter the metaphorical princess, however, has no such compunctions, and soon runs away to the mall with a strikingly-handsome, entirely naked prince. From this point, the novel grows murkier, alternating between the land of the fairy queen, the mall, the lunatic asylum, and a number of other places. There are too many characters for such a small novel, giving it an unfocused, jumpy quality that interferes with the fairy tale storytelling quality that Springer achieves only intermittently. Most of the characters work well--my favorites are the insensitive, uncooperative fairy godmother-in-law and the gay multiply-body-pierced librarian, whose magical abilities are shown but never explored--but there isn't enough book to fit them all.

They can't all be winners, I suppose. I love Springer's writing, but this isn't the book of hers you want to start with

First appeared in Absolute Magnitude, 1996.

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman