Wallace (Big Fish, 2001, etc.) spins another mythical tale about love and family.
Helen and Rachel are great-grandchildren of Elijah McCallister, who carved the town of Roam out of the wilderness, a town built around the manufacture of silk, a fabric he discovered for himself after landing in China as a sailor. Elijah succeeded through theft and monomania. He kidnapped Ming Kai, a peddler who knew the secrets of silkworms and mulberry trees, and brought him to America. "We'll be rich," he tells him and promises to bring Ming’s family from China. Instead, Elijah provided Ming with a "replacement family." Roam prospered and then faded, leaving Helen and Rachel the last McCallisters. Rachel is beautiful and blind. Helen is older, "ugly from the day she was born." The girls’ parents are killed. Helen becomes Rachel’s caretaker, sharing Elijah’s mansion, "recklessly beautiful, the largely uninhabitable manifestation of the mind of a madman." There, Helen has "covered every mirror in the house with old grocery sacks," persuaded Rachel that she is the ugly one and imprisoned her with fantasies of flesh-eating birds and bottomless ravines. What transpires thereafter is a tale of love, magic and reconciliation, a tale populated by scarred and distorted characters: whites, Chinese and "combos." The narrative’s catalyst comes when Rachel runs away, intent on proving her independence.
A fanciful story layered in symbolism and ripe with lyrical language.