A young Robert Louis Stevenson is regaled by his landlord in tales of high adventure
For a few months in 1879-1880, the scrappy, sickly “writer of slight essays” Robert Louis Stevenson resided at the boardinghouse of Mrs. Mary Carson on Bush Street in San Francisco while awaiting the liberation of his beloved Fanny from a cruel marriage so that she might marry him, despite her greater age and the disapproval of his parents. From these slight facts, Doyle (The Kind of Brave You Wanted to Be, 2016, etc.) has spun a yarn composed of the spun yarns of another, those told by Stevenson’s landlady’s husband, John Carson, a seafaring man adept at telling a tale—“when John Carson told a story you were soon inside the story yourself"—as Carson tells stories and Stevenson drinks them in, sitting by a fire in the parlor, awaiting the fine dinners of Mrs. Carson. From tracking and rescuing a kidnapped boy in the jungles of Borneo to encountering a stalwart girl who is the only surviving inhabitant of a stone village in Ireland to bringing to refuge a fragile chaplain shattered by what he witnessed in the American Civil War, the kind and brave Carson has earned his narrative authority. He feeds young Stevenson’s appetite for tales as Mrs. Carson feeds his threadbare body. Both Carsons guide the “capering boy inside the illusion of maturity” as Stevenson devours all they have to offer. In Doyle’s deft hands, we are shown how the Carsons influence the young Stevenson to appreciate and explore his own gifts as a storyteller and to contemplate the reward he might find in writing adventurous tales of his own. From them, he learns "about the nature and power of stories...about how stories actually shape our lives.”
An accomplished writer celebrates the nascent inspiration of a legendary one in this tender, affectionate, and terribly fun homage to the joys of storytelling and storytellers.