Sunday, May 10, 2009

All the vampires walking through the valley

I have recently just finished re-reading "Sunshine" by Robin McKinley, for about the millionth time. McKinley, for those of you who haven't read anything by her, is a prolific writer of young adult fiction, and is mostly known for her retelling of fairy tales (she's done Beauty and the Beast twice) and her fictional world of Damar. "Sunshine" is neither for young adults, nor is it a retelling of a fairy-tale (sort of, it does have a Beauty and the Beast bent to it. McKinley, just can't seem to stay away from that one.) It is an adult novel involving vampires. It is not McKinley's best book (that would probably be the Hero and the Crown, or maybe the Door in the Hedge), and to be honest, it can be quite squicky, (what with all the blood and gore and demons and vampires having their hearts pulled out), and slow at times. It is also one of my favorite comfort books. In part because it reminds me of my family.
The main character of this story (which is set in a world much like our own, except, you know with magic and vampires and whatnot), is a young woman aptly called Sunshine who is the baker in step-father's cafe. The cafe and her bakery are her life. Her boyfriend is the cook. Her mother is the manager. It is an all encompassing place, where vagabonds are taken in and fed and the staff become members of the family. I know that place. That place where everyone is taken in and made to feel like family, where the feed-people gene is dominant to the point of running rampant is my parent's house. There is a sense of home that pervades McKinleys very evocative descriptions of the coffeehouse that I very much identify with. I feel Sunshine's comfort and ease in the liveliness and structure depicted even if I myself have never woken up at 4 am to make Cinnamon Rolls as Big a Your Head as she does. In the book the coffeehouse is Sunshine's center and grounding place, just as my parent's house is to me. But this is not the only, or even the main reason why I am so fond of this book. Ulitimately, Sunshine is about coming into your own power.
I have always thought that the real world should have sign posted at the enterence that reads: Here there be vampires. Or at the very least, dragons. Magical worlds, after all, are just a metaphor for our own. As with most books set in fantastical worlds, in this book the young protagonist learns that she has magical powers. In this case, it is an affinity for vampires. But unlike most books of this genre (say, Harry Potter, or any other, "hey, the kid's got magic" book) it is not about the responsibility that comes with power, rather it is a metaphor for the things people give us and how we make them our own. Sunshine receives many things from many people over the course of the book- her ability to do magic from her absent father and grandmother, healing and night vision from a vampire, a sense of her own strength from a kindly neighbor, love and privacy from her boyfriend and aid from a friend-and she takes all these things and learns to kick evil's ass. But kicking evil's ass is not the point of the book. Sunshine spends most of the book thinking she's about to die- not because she has some fairly scary vampires on her tail (or rather not only because of the vampires)- but because she is terrified that her powers can do only harm; that in accepting magic and vampire into her life means a life is fractured beyond repair. The book's resolution in not in the destruction of the big scary evil, but in a coming to terms of an identity.
For me, going home to Chicago is a sort of remembering of myself. There I am faced with all the people and things that I am made of. My family, my friends, the city, the lake. It is a good place. I firmly believe that everyone should have a place like that in their soul- where everything is easy and familiar and etched into your being. But I always have some difficulty taking home back with me and making it my own. I am never quite sure that my life is not fractured beyond repair. There is here and there is there andnever the twain shall meet. But somehow, something must come together. Somehow, I must become a cohesive person. So I read Sunshine. I take comfort in the metaphor. I cannot even really verbalize the pieces of myself, let alone make them coherent, which is why there is so much about a book and so little about myself in this post and for that I apologize. For now the fable will have to do.

"This was now my life: Cinnamon rolls, Sunshine's Eschatology, seeing in the dark, charms that burned into my flesh where I could not lose them. A special relationship with the Special Other Forces, where not everybody was on the same side. A landlady who's a wardskeeper. Untidy closets. Vampires.
Get used to it, Sunshine
I came out of the closet wearing black jeans and a charcoal gray T-shirt I had always hated. And red sneakers. Hey, red turns gray in the dark faster than any other color.
He held out his hand. 'Come then,' he said.
I went out with him into the night."

Book Rec: The Hero and the Crown, Robin McKinley

Thesis Watch: Lecture, June 2.

Cubbie Watch: Too early to tell.

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