Larque on the Wing

by Nancy Springer
Avon, hb, 277 pages, $20.00
ISBN: 0-688-13175-1

Nancy Springer's Larque on the Wing is another novel with a wonderful ending. In fact, this book is one of the least predictable fantasy novels that I have read in years, a matter-of-fact assault on conventional assumptions about sex, gender, family, motherhood, marriage, love, friendship, addiction, spirituality, and carrots, among other things.

Larque is a successful, happily married artist somewhat enthusiastically approaching middle age. She has found a niche painting inoffensive pastoral scenes in decorator colors, which are snapped up by trendy suburbanites at Pennsylvania craft fairs. Since her teenage years, Larque also has had a more-or-less uncontrollable ability to summon dopplegangers, images or aspects of people which float silently in the air beside them:

  • Once, lucky enough to be out walking the town with a hunky soccer jock, she had looked at him with a lewd thought and accidentally produced beside him an instant naked replica in complete genital detail. This startled her, because it was the first time she had seen a human penis, let alone an erection. However, it startled him even more, and he had forthwith abandoned her, which left her with a very attractive naked date, but without a ride home. Not that the naked date was of much use to her. Being without substance, he could neither talk with her nor enter into physical converse. He was good only for looking at, and even that was causing problems. She held her sweater in front of him as a modesty shield, but people were screaming anyway, and then the police arrived to take him into custody. They tried to put cuffs on him, but the things went right through his wrists. This upset them, and though they gave her a ride home, they talked angrily with her mother when they got there. The year was 1968; already there was enough rebellious flower child in Larque so that when she grew annoyed at the cops she thought "Pigs," and that was a mistake. Not that they made trouble. They left right away and did not come back, but she felt bad. Altogether it was a depressing day, and the hunky boy avoided her ever afterward, so she never did find out what had happened to the naked doppleganger.

Larque has grown used to her dopplegangers, as have her easygoing Pennsylvania Dutch husband, Hoot, and her three sons, but problems begin when Sky, a doppleganger of herself as a ten-year-old, appears. This doppleganger talks, and she's not happy about the choices Larque has made in her adult life. Eventually, Sky accompanies Larque on a magical makeover into the body she dreamed of as a girl, which largely resembles a teenage boy with detachable accessories ("Every book I read the whole time I was growing up, men did important things and women brought drinks on trays."). Predictably, but much to Larque's surprise, this leads to difficulties when she returns home.

  • She loved her new body, too, which she was purposely showing off, which was not only slim and strong but hard and built, with solid pecs, a ridged slab of abs, altogether a torso to die for. She was better-looking than her own teenage son, and had told him so. At which point he had informed her that she looked like a butch dyke and had slammed off to his room, nearly sobbing. It had genuinely surprised Larque that Hoot and the boys had raised such a fuss and commotion when she came home. It surprised her that they did not know her, that they needed Sky's presence at her side to convince them she was who she said she was. She felt like herself all right, only more so than before-what was the problem? But apparently they thought of her being female as if that were more than just a bodily thing; they defined her somehow by the cushy contours of her flesh; they thought that an accidental gender distinction was her somehow, when really, from Larque's point of view, it didn't have much to do with who she was at all. They were vastly upset. Even after she grumpily went upstairs and put on her breasts for supper and stored her new penis in her top dresser drawer until later, they did not seem consoled.

Larque's continuing adventures of self-discovery lead to a series of encounters with other neglected aspects of her life: her mother, who refuses to see things she doesn't approve of, and "blinks" them into more appropriate forms; her long-since-disappeared father; her colorful (literally) best friend Doris, addicted to twelve-step programs; and many others all equally memorable. Her adventures also lead to a series of surreal climaxes. Naturally, Larque must come to terms with her own, trifurcated (read the book and you'll understand) self before she can solve any of the problems her mid-life crisis has created.

As fantasy, Larque on the Wing owes more to Tom Robbins and John Irving than to Tolkein or Tanith Lee. The novel is a fast-paced, unpredictable read, punctuated throughout by Springer's knack for telling turns of phrase.

This was the first review I wrote that was quoted by the publisher's publicity department; the line "a matter-of-fact assault on conventional assumptions about sex, gender, family, motherhood, marriage, love, friendship, addiction, spirituality, and carrots" appeared on the quotes page at the front of the paperback edition of the book.

This was originally published in Horror, then was reprinted in slightly different form in Melissa Scott's Wavelengths.

First appeared in Horror magazine, February 1994.

Copyright © 2004 by Leigh Grossman