August 31, 2006


White Time. By Margo Lanagan. HarperCollins. $15.99.

Vampire Kisses 3: Vampireville. By Ellen Schreiber. HarperCollins. $15.99.

The Return of Skeleton Man. By Joseph Bruchac. HarperCollins. $15.99.

     Journey, if you will, to a world different from ours, but not too different; and meet people different from us, but not too different; and experience with them things that could not quite happen to you in everyday life – no, not quite.

     Margo Lanagan’s world is a hard one to pin down.  In White Time – as in its predecessor, Black Juice – Lanagan offers a set of stories (10 of them here) that take place in different venues and feature different sorts of characters, from the street-smart to the fairy-tale.  The title story is about a spring-break “occupation-tasting” assignment, a form of what was called work experience in “the old days before the work/leisure dichotomy became politically incorrect.”  The befuddled protagonist, Sheneel, spends most of her time trying to figure out what is going on.  Other stories, such as “Dedication” and “The Queen’s Notice,” have slightly askew fairy-tale settings.  In fact, everything is slightly askew in these tales, with whose central characters it is impossible to empathize (the book’s major failing).  White Time is an authorial tour de force, showcasing Lanagan’s stylistic skill, but that is pretty much all it showcases: a connection with real-world humanity is somehow missing.

     Vampireville doesn’t even pretend to connect with mundane life.  Ellen Schreiber’s book, like Lanagan’s, is intended for ages 12 and up, but its setting is quite different.  This third book in the Vampire Kisses series stays focused on the relationship between Raven of the mortal world and Alexander of the Underworld.  But just as in teen-oriented books without vampires, this one has rivalries and troubles galore: Alexander’s enemy, Jagger, keeps showing up, along with his sister, Luna.  Everything takes place in a town that Raven calls Dullsville (ha, ha), with the main plot being Raven and Alexander’s search for Jagger and Luna’s home base, to try to stop them from doing nefarious things.  “’This isn’t a contest,’” says Raven when confronting Luna. “’These are people, not prizes.’  Her blue eyes turned red.  She stepped so close to me, I could smell her Cotton Candy lip gloss. ‘I want you to back off!’ she said in my face. ‘I want you to back off!’ I said in her face.”  That’s a fair sample of what passes for style here.  Take none of this the slightest bit seriously, and you can have some good clean bloody fun.

     There is more a feeling of something unclean in The Return of Skeleton Man, which is aimed at a slightly younger audience – ages 10 and up – but contains some real chills.  It does not match Joseph Bruchac’s original Skeleton Man, in which an Indian legend persists into the present and commits horrifying crimes whose background only the Mohawk girl, Molly, and her parents fully understand.  Sequels almost never measure up to their originals; Bruchac even has Molly say so at the start of this book.  But acknowledging that reality doesn’t make it any less true.  This is a short novel – just 136 pages – and more than half of it is taken up with scene-setting that quickly becomes tiresome.  The story takes place at a sprawling mountain lodge whose resemblance to the creepy scene of the film The Shining is noted by Molly herself.  In fact, a few of Bruchac’s scenes, in which Molly walks along deserted corridors, feeling someone or something watching her, closely resemble parts of the film and the Stephen King novel on which it was based.  Eventually, Molly must re-confront Skeleton Man and outwit him a second time, thanks to help from an unexpected source.  The book’s climax is effective, but it would probably be better if Bruchac lays this particular legend to rest in the future and moves on to other topics.

No comments:

Post a Comment