Chin Ah Kin, a Chinese man laboring in a railway workers' camp in the Washington territory of 1873, leaves his work to accompany Sarah Canary, a mysterious young woman, back to her home. Reprint. NYT.
(On a purely personal note, I'm a native of Washington state, and I found it great fun running into all the familiar place-names, especially Squak, my hometown -- known, these days, as Issaquah.)
I thought Sarah was a red herring of a character, and hoped for a declaration of the who what where why and how of her existence. I feel that this declaration would have made for a braver work. I get that she's a metaphor, more of a question than a statement, the question "What is a woman?" embodied as a character. I get that if you wanna show how different people view the same thing, the thing needs to remain the same, so Sarah has to remain more abject than subject.
Otherwise, very imaginative and intimate, philosophical in a recreational way. I liked how it entertains the reader by showing the characters' explorations of the meaning and reliability of what they experience and think.
The little news breaks between the chapters asserted that 1873 was one of those times when everything is or seems as surreal as the fiction contained in the chapters. Makes the surreality easier to swallow. Nice device. Easily abused. Fowler didn't.
This is one of those great novels that took me to a new, entertaining and enriching place because it's a real category-killer. Fantasy? historical fiction, magic reality, retro 19th century Wild West novella parody, it's all, some and none of these. I love telling people to read a book that I have difficulty describing. Sarah Canary is definitely one of those.
'Sarah Canary' meets many different people on her strange journey and she affects the lives of everyone she meets. Four people in particular fall under her strange spell: Chin - a Chinese railway worker who seeks to take her back where she belongs; B.J. - an escaped mental patient; Harold - a huckster who wants to put Sarah in his traveling freak show; and Adelaide Dixon, a woman suffragist.
'Sarah Canary' is all about perceptions. Each of these four characters see Sarah as something slightly different. Their perceptions also cause their lives to each change in different and fascinating ways.
When I finished 'Sarah Canary,' I realized that Fowler had taught me a lot about the times I live in now. Perceptions are the focus of the book, but Fowler also touches on the cultural differences of different types of people, prejudices, superstitions, and much more. After reading the book, I realized that I had come away with a better (but maybe not a more positive) picture of human nature.
From what I know about the history of the book, Fowler had a difficult time finding a publisher, not due to the book's quality, but rather the book's genre. It has none. It has been labeled historical fiction, Western, science fiction, comedy, mystery. It is all of these and none of these. 'Sarah Canary' is impossible to pigeonhole. Maybe that's why I lot of people I talk to haven't read it. They're missing a gold mine. I hope you don't miss out. Read it and see why Fowler is one of the most gifted talents writing today.
Is a difficult book to categorize.
After all, it's all over the place, reminds me of the film "Dead Man" by Jarmusch, a long metaphysical walk through the... Read more