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Hidden Treasure

You know that feeling you get when you find $20 in the laundry? Finding stuff you didn't even realize you'd been missing is great fun. I had TWO of those experiences yesterday, one gustatory and one literary.

The credit for the first find goes to Mr. G. (Mr. G has been, himself, one of those hidden treasures, if you will, but that's another story.)

We have a row of scraggly trees at the back edge of our yard, surrounded by weeds, brush piles, and thistles. It's mosquito heaven and skunks like to root around in the undergrowth, so I never go back there.

But Mr. G did! After mowing the lawn, something caught his eye, and he climbed back there to discover... a whole patch of blackberry bushes and a mulberry tree! It seems that alongside our walnut tree that produces 50+ gallons a year, we can be assured that we'd survive a famine--even if my veggie garden were a complete failure.

We braved the mosquitoes and harvested some berries, supplemented by the wild strawberries that grow like crazy throughout the lawn and landscaping. We don't put down any chemicals to kill weeds, so Mr. G can be often found outside grazing on them--particularly dandelions for salads and ripe wild strawberries. This year, they're surprisingly big and juicy.

Wild strawberries aren't especially flavorful, but mixed with some sugar and blackberries...

...they make one heck of a spontaneous backyard berry cobbler!

Mmmm... and high in fiber, too. Haha!

Speaking of stumbling upon delicious things forgotten, that same day I was in the bookstore looking up fantasy novels (and thanks again for all the good suggestions the other day)! I found some of the authors people had suggested to me and some others that looked good. I spent some time flipping through them. They were all at least OK, sometimes marvelously creative, but nothing really called out to me. I started to get discouraged, thinking, "Maybe I just don't like this genre. What am I doing??"

And then I walked by the Gregory Maguire books. I read Wicked a couple of years ago and was struck by it, but then I just sort of forgot about Gregory Maguire. It's probably because I saw the stage version of Wicked before I read the book and was jarred by how different the book was. The novel is dark, gloomy, grotesque, and often senseless. It made me feel depressed by the miserable ending, and I didn't feel like reading the sequel. The dreariness of the story overshadowed the marvelous craft--kind of like how the busy jumble of the Sistine Chapel boggles my eye and makes it hard for me to appreciate the fine artistry of the frescoes.

But I decided to give him another shot and opened up the book Mirror, Mirror--and couldn't set it down. Once every couple of years or so, I pick up a book, start to read it in the bookstore, and absolutely cannot let it go. I buy it. Considering how many books I pick up, that means the writing has to strike me like lightning. Or it has to be the next one in a series I've already invested in--you know, whichever. This was the former sort of occasion. Yes! I thought. This is what I've been looking for!

The book begins with a 1-2 page description of the setting. Horrors! But it is SO BEAUTIFUL and so precise, flitting between the beautiful and the eerie, that it builds tension and keeps me reading and re-reading each sentence, not skimming down the page as I usually do.

The second sentence:
In the late spring, when the puckers of red poppy blossom are scattered against the green of the season, it can look like so much washing, like mounds of Persian silk and Florentine brocade lightly tossed in heaps.

There is a metaphor which is lovely, clear, and unexpected. Maybe it's been done, but I haven't read a landscape being compared with rumpled cloth before. But it's so perfect and paints such a vivid image.

Likewise, this description of decaying grandeur took me right back to things I had seen in Italy:
Along one retaining wall, a loggia ran unevenly, its walls inset with terrazzo putti whose faces had become bubonic with the remains of insect cocoons.

God, baby faces swelling with blistering bug carcasses! How gruesome, and what a sharp focus those words give to a complex picture. That is the kind of brilliance that inspires me--even if I don't write in the same style, I can at least attempt to emulate the focus of that prose.

One more example of writing that made me smile, from a piece of dialogue on page 11 (and that's as far as I have gotten--I need to shut off the computer and go read) is a comical moment when two old folks are bantering with each other.
"You've left a dent in this log," observed Fra Ludovico kindly.

Maguire uses an adverb after a dialogue tag in the best possible way--contrarily, humorously. That's great. With that one word, I can hear the dry, insincere kindness in the voice.

Like I said, that's only up to page 11. There were many other sentences that struck me, but those are the ones I remembered off the top of my head.

And it's not just the pretty prose--I expect, based on Maguire's other works, that the story will be strange and imaginative and not at all expected. I can't wait to devour the rest.

And as I read, I dream that someday, some agent or publisher out there will find a piece of my work and feel like they just found a berry patch in the weeds.


  1. Aww, what a wonderful post! And pretty pictures, too. I'm suddenly hungry!

    I tried to read WICKED and I absolutely hated it. This is really interesting to see that he might have a book I like. I might have to look into checking that one out. The prose is exquisite.

  2. if the berries have no flavor, i'd guess you don't have wild strawberries but these:

    wild strawberries are very flavorful! do the seeds 'stick out' more than a regular strawberry? the ones in your picture on your post are these "Indian Strawberries" not wild strawberries...hence the lack of flavor!

  3. Lisa: Fascinating! I think you're absolutely right--my "wild strawberries" are really an invasive Asian weed. Well, at least they supposedly cure skin diseases. I guess that's neat.

    Michelle: I didn't like Wicked either, which is why the author didn't come to mind when I was looking for fantasy/fairy tale books. But I have high hopes for Mirror Mirror since the first few pages captivated me so much, especially in comparison to other fantasy novels I browsed. I hope it holds up.

  4. I love the cobbler pic and the berries. All that grown in my backyard is weeds. I planted a lemon tree and it had flowers on it, (I plant a lemon every time I move to a new place, because it reminds me of my mom). And all the blossoms fell off and now the tree looks anemic. I'm jealous.

  5. if you want wild strawberry plants, ranney park by my house is FILLED with them...a secret night time dig up? they are DELICIOUS but tiny...about the size of a pinky nail!

  6. Let me know how you like the book -- I've had it on my shelf for about a year now and haven't read it yet! I LOVED Maguire's Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister

  7. PC: What climate do you live in? Fruit trees can be tricky. My in-laws bought a mango tree for their yard in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, which is a little too far north for mango. They have to bring it inside every winter and do all this stuff to keep it alive. In Mirror Mirror, there's an Italian family that has a special greenhouse where they put their lemon trees in winter!

    Lisa: I am so down. Second trimester is beginning, and I feel a bit less tired.

    Meika: I'm about halfway through now. I really like it EXCEPT I'm annoyed that there are references to piss, shit, or penises every 4 pages or so. I'm not a prude, but come on. Was this book written by an eloquent chimpanzee? It's almost like the author is trying too hard to make sure the story isn't "cute." I've noticed a lot of fairy tale-based novels are a little too cutesy for my taste. But the obsession with excrement and penises is getting weird. There aren't even vaginas in this story. Just penises everywhere, for no apparent reason in most cases. And lots of poo and pee. It's like one of Freud's wet dreams or something. But I roll my eyes and plug through because it still has its redeeming qualities.

  8. Thanks for the book tip, Genie. You picked out some potent imagery.


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