Co-authors Bishop and Fuller (Realists, 2013, etc.) draw on decades of experience as playwrights and puppeteers to craft a novel about love and creativity.
Puppeteer Albert Fisher is coming up on the first anniversary of the death of his wife and collaborator, Lainie. He’s set financially and could retire, but a story begins to bloom in his mind that he can’t resist turning into a puppet production. It’s a tale of Sir Galahad’s quest for the Holy Grail, told in this novel as a story within a story. Fisher struggles to create a satisfying narrative and reflects on what his creative choices tell him about himself. He names Galahad’s wife after his daughter, Mara; he adds a young boy, separated from his parents and lost in time, and a court fool named Sammy. He can’t figure out why he has Mara disguise herself as the fool to join Galahad on his quest, and he’s challenged on the point by Jeanette Ward, a costumer he hired to dress the puppets that he’s building. As the fictional and real-life journeys continue, Fisher and Jeanette get emotionally closer. But every step forward brings more questions for Fisher as the quest in his story mirrors events in his life. The authors resist supplying easy answers for their characters, just as Fisher resists doing so for his. They intriguingly mention that Fisher is visible to the audience as he controls his puppets—an unmistakable reference to their own experience writing the novel. The novel ends up as a kind of fun house mirror of puppets controlling puppets, with little sense of who or what is controlling it all. In this respect, it feels a bit like Tom Stoppard’s famous 1966 play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. It’s both an existential drama and a comedy, in which the reader’s aha moment is the realization that an epiphany isn’t forthcoming. This may bother readers who like everything wrapped up in a neat bow, but others will find it satisfyingly realistic.
An inventive story about the ebb and flow of the artistic process, and of life itself.