Thursday, March 23, 2017

The New York Times Book Review

The New York Times Book Review has asked me to review Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland. I anxiously awaited my advance preview copy in the mail. When it came I was disappointed. Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland is an astonishingly thin book. In an unusual square format, the book seems hardly more than a fancy pamphlet. Even then I hoped that what it might lack in heft, depth, and sheer verbiage, it might make up for in the density of its prose. Perhaps my mind would be challenged by a short work of fierce complexity, a puzzle of challenging forms and intellectual invention? No. Peachblossom and the Trip to Happy Fairy Wonderland is oddly full of pictures; insipid, cartoonish drawings of tiny young ladies with wings. The text itself covered but a few crude sentences on each page and all together could probably be quoted in whole here without straining the length of my review.

Could this possibly be the correct book?

I checked my letters from the editor of The New York Times Book Review. Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland was indeed the book they wanted me to review. Furthermore Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland was the book I had agreed, contractually, to review. So I sat down in my best reading chair, lowered my reading glasses, and applied my undivided attention to the text.

Ninety seconds later I was finished reading, cover to cover, Peachblossom the Fairy and the Trip to Happy Wonderland. My first impression was not good. The writing was so simple and banal that I cried out "Does this author think I am some small child!" 

I will share with you a small sample of the opening text of the novel:

"Peachblossom is a happy fairy. She lives in the Enchanted Forest with her many friends. One day there is a magic storm. There is a rainbow."

I did not spend nine years at Harvard University studying Literary Semiotics only to be confronted with a main character whose entire reality consists of being happy and having friends. Is the text being ironic? I assure you it is not. It is steadfast in its insipid assertions of untroubled people in a thin paradise. The magic rainbow opens a path to Happy Wonderland. Is a wonderland not enough of an inducement? Must it also be happy? These relentless assertions of positivity only start to make me question the desperation of the author's assertions. Is Orangeflower, the "smiling Sunshine Fairy", always smiling? What meaning can there be to a Happy Wonderland where "the people always have a happy fun time"? When the author made these relentless proclamations of joy I felt suffocated, unable to have any room to respond to the characters and events of the book on my own. And I wanted to respond on my own, because Peachblossom was clearly capable of being a resourceful and dynamic figure, as we were soon to see. And there were elements in her relationships with Orangeflower and Aprilshower, the Rain Fairy, that seemed interesting on their own, without the author's repeated assertions that they "loved each other very much" or were always "the best friends".

As much as I detested the book at first, which I found puerile and poorly written, I became more conflicted as I engaged with the plot. To my surprise I started to find the extremely brief novel gathering hitherto unforeseen depths. Conflict was the key in this transition. I felt nothing for Peachblossom and all her happy happy times in Wonderland as they first transpired, but when she could not find a way back home to the Enchanted Forest my heart went out to her. I soon felt a surprising admiration for her resolution, possibly because there seemed so little grit and personality to her at first. When she gathered her best friends Aprilshower the Rain Fairy and Orangeflower the Sunshine Fairy together to make a new magic rainbow to lead them home I admit to being caught off guard. What a clever fairy Peachblossom turns out to be! Despite the initial insistence on a thin characterization of "happy", these unrevealed depths of Peachblossom were a surprise and a delight.

For all the faults of the writer of this work, one cannot deny that this author, or authors (it remains unclear), showed a deft, masterful hand at plotting and character development. That it was merely a device of the author to set the initial quality of the book at an appallingly low standard in order to accentuate its later emotional power is a theory I am skeptical of, but I nevertheless find myself unable to resist the well won emotional triumph of Peachblossom's return home to the Enchanted Forest. Perhaps the face of literature has not been changed by this work, but the meaning of friendship between Orangeflower, Aprilshower, and Peachblossom is a testament to the power of art and to the triumph of love and happiness over everything. These visions will long sing in my heart, and my view of both friendship and rainbows will never be the same again.

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