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by Sean Stewart
Category: Fantasy/Mystery/Crime Locus Poll Award Nominee, Nebula Award(R) Finalist, World Fantasy Award Finalist
Description: Sometimes you have to go back home. The classic Sean Stewart novel, a 2000 New York Times Notable Book and the World Fantasy and Nebula Award Finalist. Elena Beauchamp used magic the way other people used credit cards. Now she's dead, and her daughters Toni and Candy have a debt to pay. Set in modern-day Houston, Texas, this is a funny and moving novel of voodoo, pregnancy, and family ties. While Toni sorts out the mess that Elena left behind, she must also come to terms with her childhood and with the supernatural and dangerous gift that she has inherited from her mother.
eBook Publisher: Small Beer Press, 1998 1998
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [364 KB]
Reading time: 234-328 min.
"A wonderfully vivid and unexpected blend of magic realism and finely-observed contemporary experience." -- William Gibson, Zero History
"Witty, wicked, and wise. Wonderful!" -- Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club
"Hands down the best novel I have read in 2005, and one of the best I've ever had the privilege to read." -- Park Road Books, Charlotte, NC
"Reads like a shot of whiskey -- sweet, fiery swirls in the throat that linger on." -- Mary-Jo, Powells.com
"One of the most enjoyable books of the year." -- San Francisco Chronicle
"A gentle, funny, affirming novel. . . . Stewart writes beautifully and affectionately about this family and their acquaintances, friends, and business partners. Like a poet with a cattle prod, he crafts his phrasing carefully, then rocks the reader back on his heels with an insight or an insult." -- San Diego Union-Tribune
"Stewart's best, most perfectly balanced novel yet. . . . a small masterpiece. Stewart's control of tone is nothing short of brilliant; Toni's no-nonsense Texas narrative voice immediately disarms us with its tall-tale overtones and its authentic (and genuinely funny) humor. . . . A work of genuine brilliance." -- Locus
"Read this novel and for days afterward you'll start conversations with, "I just read the strangest book." When Elena died, her daughter, Toni, unwillingly inherited her voodoo dolls and her debts. The dolls are able to exert their supernatural effects on Toni when she least expects it which creates havoc on the lives of family and friends. Candy, the other daughter, has her own life to live and just hovers on the outer edge of Toni's life, offering support when needed. This is a lively and highly original story which I will recommend to my reading group." -- Andra Tracy, Out Word Bound Bookstore, Indianapolis, IN
"Fusing prophecy, pregnancy and voodoo, Stewart (The Night Watch) delivers a fanciful magic realist tale set in modern-day Houston. After her mother dies, Antoinette ("Toni") Beauchamp receives a "gift she can't refuse": visitations from her mother's personal gods. These gods, or riders, are given access to Toni when her sister, Candy, following instructions left by their mother, feeds Toni a doctored drink. The beverage makes Toni receptive to the gods, who ride around inside her head and use her body to further their own ends. Sickened by this invasion and saddened by the loss of her mother, Toni decides to have a child. The narrative follows the progress of Toni's pregnancy and her struggles to keep the riders in check. Toni's rambling first-person narrative is vivacious and entertaining. The characterizations of Toni, Candy, their beaus and their father shine with humor and a Southern sauciness. Laced throughout are stories about the riders that illuminate their attributes and add an element of dark whimsy to the narrative. This isn't Stewart's most tightly focused novel, but his poignant take on voodoo among middle-class women makes for delicious fun."--Publishers Weekly
After her mother's death, Toni Beauchamp discovers her true inheritance: an inner gift that makes her the conduit for a group of "Riders," archetypal gods that possess her at their whim to set into motion their own mysterious schemes. Set in an alternate-Earth reinfused by magical forces, the latest novel by the author of Resurrection Man (LJ 5/15/95) depicts a reality in which even the smallest events resound with import and in which a young woman's efforts to make peace with her past lead her to a confrontation with the conspiratorial spirits that shape her future. Stewart's elegant prose imparts a lyrical feel to this tale that should appeal to fans of subtle fantasy and magical realism."-- Library Journal
"Elena Beauchamp, a most formidable woman, was possessed by the Riders--six spirits who each occasionally "mounted" her consciousness, replacing her personality with his or her own. When Elena dies, her elder daughter Toni supposes she has seen the last of the Riders, but after imbibing the "mockingbird cordial" Elena directed her to quaff in memoriam, they start riding her. Undaunted, she forges ahead with plans to have a baby by artificial insemination, help curvaceous sister Candy marry boyfriend Carlos (who, by the way, drives a decorated hearse known as the Muertomobile), and get Elena's friend Mary Jo's roof fixed. It would also be nice if Toni could find out who the Little Lost Girl Elena talked about so much really is. Everything on Toni's agenda is accomplished within a year full of magic, more death, commodities market speculation, an exorcism, and a hurricane. Stewart's Houston-set sentimental sitcom, sort of a Fried Green Tomatoes rethought by Stephen King, is avant-garde for fantasy fiction--earthily charming and hilarious rather than heroic and horrifying."--Ray Olson, Booklist
"Knotty, unsparing, and impressively wrought."-- Kirkus Reviews
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When you get down to the bottom of the bottle, as Momma used to say, this is the story of how I became a mother. I want that clear from the start. Now, it's true that mine was not a typical pregnancy. There was some magic mixed up in there, and a few million dollars in oilfield speculation, and some people who died, and some others who wouldn't stay quite dead. It would be lying to pretend there wasn't prophecy involved, and an exorcism, and a hurricane, and I scorn to lie. But if every story is a journey, then this is about the longest trip I ever took, from being a daughter to having one.
It starts the day we buried Momma.
It is embarrassing to admit that your mother can see the future, read minds, perform miracles, and raise the dead. It was something I held against her for a long time. I hated the agonizing moment when a kid on my baseball team or a high-school classmate would ask me if the stories were really true, and I would have to say yes. It would have been easier--and safer--to say no, to say that Momma was a bit eccentric but had no special powers. But I was always a willfully, rudely honest little girl. If someone asked me point-blank, I had to admit that my mother was a witch, and the little gods who ruled her were real.
When I told folks what Momma could do they figured I was fibbing, or that my sister and I suffered from delusions brought on by too much drinking, blows to the head, or the repressed memories of incest or devil worship. Now, it is true my mother was a liar. It is true she drank too much and she slapped me more than once when I was growing up. But I promise you, worshipping the Riders was the farthest thing from her mind. They were Life's collection agents. When Momma drew too much on her gifts, the Riders would take their due. Unless you worship the IRS, drop the whole idea that Momma loved her gods.
Momma's magic was real. When she predicted IBM stock would go up, it went up, and the money her investors made was real too. Once I even saw Momma raise the dead, although that went so badly that we all agreed, even her, never to do it again.
It wasn't exactly a person that Momma resurrected. It was Geronimo the frog.
I had better explain that.
The chief feature of my parents' house in Houston, Texas, was the glorious garden in our backyard. The whole wall of the house facing it was French doors, which Momma left open all the time, so it was hard to tell where the garden ended and our kitchen began. My little sister, Candy, and I spent a lot of time in the garden, hiding from Momma and catching frogs. Now, the early seventies in Texas were a doll-crazy time for little girls. Besides a legion of Barbies, I had a bunch of Kiddles, little weensy dolls whose clothes would fit a good-sized frog just right. I still have Polaroids of Geronimo in a pink doll tutu that is to die for. At first Geronimo didn't like being caught and dressed up, but he seemed to get used to it. After we had been acquainted a while, he would come squat on our hands and let us dress him up, so long as we bribed him with mealworms and doodlebugs.
Just after my eleventh birthday I found Geronimo dead, floating in the little concrete pond under the banana tree. Candy and I were inconsolable. At first Momma was sympathetic, but our whining and snivelling soon commenced to aggravate her. I was a sulky girl at the best of times, and made life miserable for everyone with my moping. Finally Momma took the frog over to the cabinet where she kept her gods and stuffed him in the Preacher's cubby and lit a candle and told us to get out of the room. Then she did something she had seen in New Orleans when she was younger. I never knew the details, but the next morning we found Geronimo in the garden again, shouldering his way heavily through the monkey grass.
But he wasn't really alive. He never ate, he never sang. He just staggered after us as if hungry for our warmth. He was worse than dead: he was a Zombie Frog, a horrible pathetic remnant of himself. Candy, who was only seven, started screaming whenever he came near. Finally I squashed Geronimo flat with a shovel from the garden shed. Then I stood on the blade, pinning him to the flagstone path, while Candy ran and got an empty milk carton. I could feel the shovel jerking and trembling under my foot as Geronimo tried to get away. When Candy got back I opened the spout end of the carton and shoved Geronimo inside. Then I held it closed with my foot while Candy got the big stapler off Daddy's desk. Together we stapled the end of the milk carton shut and then we crept out of the yard and ran to the storm drain at the end of the block and stuffed the milk carton into its big dark mouth, with poor Geronimo still bumping and hopping inside.
It was an awful episode. I mention it as an example of how real Momma's magic was, though it wasn't always that ghastly. I have to admit that as they lowered Momma's coffin into her grave, I wasn't crying and grieving like Candy was. I was listening for the sound of Momma bumping and knocking against the lid, trying to get out.
My name is Antoinette Beauchamp, pronounced BEECH-um, and I am my mother's daughter only in DNA. I have a degree in mathematics from Rice University and am a Fellow of the Society of Actuaries. I hate lying. Leave the prayers and possessions and the Riders in the wardrobe, the stories of Sugar and the Widow and the Little Lost Girl--leave all that buried with Momma, along with the tears and the scenes and the Bloody Marys. Buried with her where they belong.