An Eerie, Translucent Brand of Magic
Brenna Yovanoff performs a rare and eerie brand of magic in her debut novel, The Replacement, drawing a translucent veil of paranormalcy so gently over the mind of the reader that—though she works in plain view, without subterfuge or distracting tricks–we do not blink, we do not look away, we do not speak up to refute a world that cannot be, because it is. We know it is, not because Yovanoff convinces us, but because we recognize it. The town of Gentry, with its willful blindnesses and cruelties, its churches, its cemeteries and its slag heap, is embedded, one way or another, in every town, just as surely as the living dead are embedded in every social clique and club and blood drive in America.
Yovanoff substitutes one world for another, surely, but in doing so she restores an original and ancient mystery to our dealings with life and death and the daily transactions we make with both, until the layered world she shows us becomes, once again–as it always was–the real one, living side by side or just a sidelong glance across the surface of the one we’ve been collectively pretending–all of us, all along–to be whole and plausible and independent of our dark imaginings.
Mackie Doyle is allergic. While he cannot, for the life of him, tell the truth, he is the most honest and reliable of narrators. He doesn’t lie; it’s just that he has been conditioned, like most of us, not to admit certain, shall we say, rustic facts–about himself, about his kind, about the way things are, the way things…operate.
The tension between Mackie and Tate, who cannot abide his evasions, is wholly original and true. They provide the electromagnetic current, the polar orientation, of Yovanoff’s tale. The other members of the cast, while often serving various emblematic functions, are never less than convincingly and strikingly themselves–except for the ones who are (like Mackie) someone else. I am thinking of Roswell and the uncomplicated loyalty between friends who’ve grown up together and do not require of one another a great deal of explanation. And I’m thinking of Emma, whose devotion to Mackie is total, vulnerable and powerful.
Yovanoff demonstrates that the nether world of Faerie is as relevant to post-industrial America as it once must have been to the Celtic world that first brought it into common view. That region of the imagination (if you insist) still shimmers, and it stinks. It is vibrant, alluring, fetid and also, in its bruised, addictive way, fashionable.
Mackie Doyle’s momentary and decidedly small-time fame as bassist with the band Rasputin is reminiscent of the vampire Lestat’s open air disguise as a rock star, and we can see traces of the Weasley twins in Danny and Drew, if we try hard, but in both cases, the references are down-sized and genuine, dressed in the unassuming charm of the local. We’ve known these kids since they were little.
We’ve also known, since forever, the likes of the Morrigan and her sister. Petulant, competitive child-goddesses who play at adult games if and when it suits them. Once every seven years, anyway.
So far this year, The Replacement is the best reading I can recommend. Yovanoff’s voice is better than original; it’s true. It’s a voice I hope we’ll hear again and again.
This review was previously published at Berkshire Fine Arts.