Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Review: "Strange Toys" by Patricia Geary

Last year, my favorite book was Scarlett Thomas's The End of Mr Y.

This year, Patricia Geary's Strange Toys.

And I just realized that both books share in common a peculiar trait: neither is easily summed up. And what they're about, precisely, is really, in the end, up to you.

This is especially the case with Geary's Strange Toys.

Pet is nine when her sister, Deane, does something so awful that she faces trial. Pet is sixteen and living with the repercussions of Deane's actions when she's given the opportunity to find her sister and --

Pet is thirty when she meets a man who gives her a third chance at using her power.


Pet is nine when she stands in Deane's room and finds the book. Pet is nine when she stands in Deane's room and finds her long-lost kitten, Marmalade, stuffed and ratty. Pet is sixteen and wants to confront Deane. Pet is sixteen and wants Deane to take care of her.

Pet is thirty and still has the poodles, the arm band, the ju-ju. Pet is Hannah, and yes, there is a woman who can lift a thousand pounds.

I could re-write these fifty different ways. And each one would be correct. Just as I suspect that if you approached Geary and told her, "Strange Toys is about this," she would answer with, "Yes."

Some readers want everything tied up neatly at the end. They want to know how it all turned out, and more importantly, what it all meant. If that's you, skip this book. But if you want to take a trip back to your childhood and remember all those games you made up with your sister, to smell the backseat of a car on a long family road trip, to look out the window of that car and see the Other Place reflected in your mind's eye, in the eyes of a cigar store Indian, in the signs for roadside attractions that have long since dried up and tumbleweeded away, then read this. For surely, no other author I have ever read has so perfectly captured the voice of youth.

And when Pet moves on, you move on with her. Every character in this book is absolutely alive, and you never know what's around the corner. And just like Pet, you're feeling your way along, trying to decipher the code.

I desperately wish I had someone to talk to about this book. I want to talk about Deane, a major character we never actually meet and what that means. I want to talk about how we never find out Pet's real name, and what that means. I want to talk about Stan and Linwood, and how they created their present because they held on so grimly to one piece of the past. I want to fuck Alonso. Hey, if you read this, you would too. And I want every single thing I collected when I was a girl, I want it now, here, on an altar on my dresser. Because I believe.

If you're still confused, I'll leave you with these: Geary's been called a "master storyteller." YES. She has unbelievable skill, and she never falters for a moment. Many reviewers on Amazon say this is their favorite book, ever. Ever. I can absolutely see why, and it'll surely be in my top ten and be re-read to tatters.

Most of those reviewers also lament the lack of attention she's received. Strange Toys did receive the Philip K. Dick award in 1987, which may make you think it's science fiction. That's where I found it in the bookstore. It most certainly is not. Is it fantasy? Not really. General fiction, mystery, what is it? And this, I agree with reviewers is the main issue. This is nearly unclassifiable, except that speculative fiction has come of age recently. If it had been an acknowledged genre in 1987, I'm sure it would've received more attention. In the end, I'd call it the most glorious, twisting, decadent spec fic I have ever read. And I strongly urge everyone to get a copy.


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  1. I just ordered the book, stat, as I have followed your recommendations before, and you have never steered me wrong! It will take a while to get it, and a few days to read it, but I hope to be able to discuss all these points with you.

    Personally, I hate when everything is tied up neatly with a bow at the end. I mean, sometimes... yeah, okay. But life isn't like that, really.

    Have you seen Inception? If so, I'd be interested to know what you thought of it.

  2. I can't wait for you to read it. Initially, I was a bit put off -- "What the heck is this?" I wasn't sure where it was going. That didn't last long. Soon, I was so sucked in, that the characters were alive, and I can't stop thinking about them.

    I'm glad you said that about thing being tied up neatly. A few people on Amazon gave it low stars because of the ending. I'm not sure I totally understand the ending myself, but I think I "get it." Either way, it doesn't matter.

    I have not seen Inception! But everyone's talking about it, and Brian and I might see it this upcoming weekend. We've been seeing a movie a week lately. "Dinner for Shmucks" last week, which was hilarious. I haven't laughed that much in ages. If I do see Inception, I'll let you know!

  3. I've ordered the book too. Sounds like it's got all the elements I look for in a novel - I'm looking forward to reading it now.

    I'd like to say it would be one to keep my busy during my recovery, but you wouldn't believe how much the backlog is already mounting up. :-D

  4. I really think you, especially, will enjoy this. And selfishly, I really want you to read it so you can apply your highly analytical mind to it and tell me what you think about a few things, or what Geary is saying about reality in general.

    I know about the backlog. You will be busy. Actually, that might be nice. Think about all the uninterrupted reading you'll get done. :)

  5. I just finished reading STRANGE TOYS this afternoon, and found your blog because I too was searching for someone to discuss it with. To me, it seems like Pet and Deane are uncanny doubles of each other, a la the women in David Lynch's Lost Highway -- much is made of their physical resemblance, and they seem to switch places during that weird ritual ceremony when they're 16. But how or why this happens is beyond me. That said, I loved this book intensely and I know I'm going to be mulling over it for a long while...