A Midwesterner recalls her semi-enchanted childhood.
This latest novel from Koerber (I Once Was Lost But Now I’m Found, 2017) tells the complicated family history of a 65-year-old woman named Andy. She lives in sleepy Allenburg in Iowa, “a small market town in the Midwest, surrounded by puppy mills, factory farms, and meth labs. And cornfields. Lots of gravel roads and lots of cornfields.” Andy looks back on her life growing up in this quiet, peaceful backwater, living with her brother, Danny, and her caustic, bitter mother, Cindy (her father, scorned by Cindy, left long ago). Andy and her mother enjoy chain-smoking and trading barbs. When she’s 13, Andy meets her “fairy godmother,” Alana, and, intriguingly, the label in the girl’s reminiscences seems as much literal as figurative. Alana introduces Andy to the world of Algonquin folklore, which she eagerly absorbs: “She wanted to understand the words of the oldest jiibay, or fairies, from back before they learned Native words and long before they started speaking English.” Andy’s memories move forward in time to encompass her mother’s failing health and her own relationship with her daughter, Bridget. Koerber balances her narrative’s relaxed and direct pacing with frequent, evocative descriptions of the seasonal beauty of the Midwest, which Andy always remembers warmly: “The grass in the yard was silvery, the trees a strange dense black flecked with the starlight that reflected off the leaves. She felt the night air wrap itself around her, heavy as a wool blanket.” The tale progresses naturally through Andy’s memories as she recalls encountering more clues as to the nature and whereabouts of her missing father. The author smoothly works in light fantasy elements, touching on the fairy kingdom that’s always adjacent to the real world. “Aunty” Alana tells Andy stories about that jiibay realm and its ways. The resulting gentle mix of small-town life and glamorous fairies is ultimately enchanting.
A charming, readable tale about a resilient woman’s search for her family—both regular and supernatural.