A family saga to the core, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender is whimsical and unconventional, but surprisingly powerful. From these pages of magical realism and beautiful words springs forth a tale of intricate cosmic forces and vivid characters which combine to ask us broader questions of fate and normalcy.
To many, I was myth incarnate, the embodiment of a most superb legend, a fairy tale. Some considered me a monster, a mutation. To my great misfortune, I was once mistaken for an angel. To my mother, I was everything. To my father, nothing at all. To my grandmother, I was a daily reminder of loves long lost. But I knew the truth—deep down, I always did. I was just a girl. (Introduction)
Ava introduces the readers to her novel by examining her family history from her grandmother all the way down to her in an attempt to explain her own strange qualities. Ava was born with wings. Set to figure out the mystery of her origin, Ava offers us the fruits of her research into her family tree. Catching up with the present day, Ava’s chance sighting by an incredibly pious new neighbor, Nathaniel Sorrows, sets the entire family on a path that must involve each and every one of them to unravel.
She worried she couldn’t protect me from all of the things that had hurt her: loss and fear, pain and love. Most especially from love. (156-157)
From the very beginning, this book transfixed me. Books which have a narrator which writes us a letter or addresses the readers at the start is my kryptonite. I love the way that Ava’s letter to the readers, explaining the following pages, sets the tone of the story. Beginning at page one the line between fiction and reality is already breached, having us interpret the history through Ava’s eyes. This is just one example of the greatness of Walton’s writing. The choice to include Nathaniel’s direct journal entries is another. Nathaniel’s mindset is a crucial piece of the story and by offering his unfiltered raw thoughts we are allowed an intimate look into his evolution as a character.
Let me speak about the side characters while we are on that note. Each side character is complex and three dimensional, whether their presence lasts a sentence or pages. Their quirks transcend the plot and bring life to the background. The whole story is full of exceptional characters who pull at your heart strings. The main characters, Emilienne, Vivian, and Ava are entirely wonderful and complex. So different, and yet alike, these women are the backbone of their family. Spending more time with them is a gift and you need it to truly appreciate their depth. Each of them give us two sides to love: their utterly human and fallible side as well as their beautiful qualities and strange abilities.
‘And that might just be the root of the problem: we’re all afraid of each other, wings or no wings’. (177)
Throughout the story there is an elegant poetic complexity to the whole story that is both tragic and mesmerizing. The women experience the pains of the human heart: haunted by death, scarred from love lost, fearful of unrequited love, and faced with the challenge of moving on. Their universal feelings of confusion and uncertainty are incredibly relatable. The stories of our life on the page are pictured in brilliant color and full of strange and dangerous powers. They portray the influence of perception between angels and demons, and the normal and strange.
Throughout the story there is a beautiful vulnerability to the characters, a wonderful fragility that is understated amongst the wings, blue ashes and invisible women. I adore what Walton says in the author’s note: “That’s the thing about magical realism: sometimes the mundane is magic; sometimes the magic is mundane”. I couldn’t agree more that this is at the heart of what makes up magical realism. How wonderfully put. Truly magical, this story exposes you to both strange and beautiful sorrows of the human heart. The story asks us broader questions of what fate is and how we protect ourselves. Do we cage ourselves in, destined to never leave or be hurt? What do we do with wings when we are afraid to fly?
What do you think of magical realism?
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