“When I was a boy, my mother used to tell me that at night the saguaro all dance together. That’s why they look the way they do–with all their arms raised high. They won’t move while you’re watching them, they wait until you fall asleep. And then at dawn they all have to rush to get back into place again. She used to say to me, ‘Close your eyes, mijo; the saguaro are waiting for you to sleep so they can run off to dance…’”
~”The Wood Wife” by Terri Windling
I chose “The Wood Wife” by Terri Windling as my first book for this year’s Once Upon a Time Challenge. Carl recommended it to me during last year’s challenge, and I thought that it would be a fitting start.
The book tells the story of a writer named Maggie Black. She has been corresponding with a poet named Davis Cooper for many years, and learns upon his death that she has inherited his house , despite having never physically met him. She travels to the Arizona desert with the hope of writing his biography. As she learns more about Cooper and his wife, the surrealist painter Anna Navera, she begins to realize that the strange mythological creatures depicted in their art and poetry are real. Her search for answers regarding Cooper’s mysterious death leads her to discover a world much more complex than she had imagined.
Books like this one are quite special. As an American, I often feel that our culture is devoid of legend and myth. The closest thing we have are stories about Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed, but let’s face it, they’re kind of lame. Windling’s mythic fiction combines Native American trickster stories with Celtic and Mexican influences in order to create a mythology with a distinctly North American feel. I’m a big fan and would like to read more books like this one.
One of the things that I loved about this book were Windling’s descriptions of the desert. I’ve never been to the desert, but I would like to live there one day.
Windling’s writing is lush and poetic. I particularly liked how she headed each chapter with a segment from Cooper’s poems. I feel as if I’m drawn to books about creative people. The characters in “The Wood Wife” were well-drawn and believable while still retaining a unique feel. I was amused by Maggie’s ongoing friendship with her ex-husband; it’s rare to see divorced couples in literature be able to be on speaking terms with each other.
Windling’s writing reminds me a bit of Charles de Lint’s stories, as both authors work from a similar concept. Windling’s spirits feel a bit more sinister than de Lint’s, although in practice they both represent amoral creatures that don’t operate on the good vs. evil dichotomy. “The Wood Wife” is an excellent choice for anyone interested in mythic fiction.
This book also counts toward the Award Winning Books Reading Challenge hosted by Gathering Books, as the novel was the winner of the 1997 Mythopoeic Award for Best Novel. I am also including it in the Speculative Fiction Challenge hosted by Baffled Books.