imagined animalia

Dust City by Robert Paul Weston

Henry lives in a world gone wrong.  Where fairy dust once created daily miracles, now pharmaceutical companies pedal knock-off versions of "dust" for every ill.  Henry should know, since one of their trucks killed his mother.  And his own world has gone wrong in other ways too.  He's stuck in St. Remus Home for Wayward Youth while his father is in prison for having killed Red Riding Hood and her grandmother.  Though aspects of the premise sound humorous, this novel is anything but a fractured fairy tale.  Henry hasn't heard from his dad since he was locked up, and although he has grown to be a pretty big wolf, like his dad, his friends all know that he's really a softie.  Of course, he does occasionally have to defend himself from the more violent inmates.  But when he walks in on the recently hanged body of his shrink, things change, and Henry breaks out of the "home" (really a juvenile detention facility) and into the real world.  His quest to see his father turns into a quest to find out what really happened to the fairies.

The fairies once lived in Eden, high above Dust City, where no one but they could travel.  And yet the world was not all right then, either, as Henry slowly realizes that the hominids had always cornered the market on happy endings, and the animalia--wolves like him, foxes, ravens, etc.--were hardly ever granted wishes, happy endings, or anything else.  The animalia have always been bit players in the stories of the hominids.  And this slow-dawning realization starts to make Henry mad, but what he finally uncovers sickens him and makes him sorry he started the quest in the first place (nope, no spoiler on this one--it's worth reading).  

Fantasy is great for exploring complex sides of social worlds, metaphors allowing a kind of distance from reality that highlights the lines that we accept as part of our daily worlds.  The various animalia-hominid-nixie-giant divides read as metaphors for race and class divisions in society today (albeit not easily mapped ones), and that's just part of what Weston has achieved.  He's also infused this tough young wolf Henry with a sense of deep pathos and longing for a better world, and the ending holds some possibility for hope.  

*****

I blog for many reasons, most of them to keep track of what I've read and what I thought when I did read.  Reading has been a constant in my life.  When everything else is in upheaval, I can read and, usually, learn or imagine something new.  I may not ever be able to explain fully why I value exploring worlds that don't exist so much.  It's a good day to celebrate a year of stamina through upheavals, and the steadiness of a good read.