Mar 05, 11
Read in March, 2011
Walking the Labyrinth doesn’t sound like it should work anywhere near as well as it does. Molly Travers, a young woman in the modern day Bay area, finds herself investigating her ancestors, a loose-knit family troupe of illusionists who may have commanded powers beyond mere illusion. In addition to structuring the novel around a well-worn conceit, Goldstein employs the risky gambit of including substantial portions of the materials Travers finds in her own text, in one case going so far as to liberally quote a secondary source which itself includes primary source material. But Goldstein’s novel feels neither clichéd nor ostentatiously formally structured. Molly Travers is believably drawn, and I think her character strikes exactly the right balance between skepticism and credulity. It’s her voice, and Goldstein’s lucid, well-chosen prose, that make the novel succeed. Goldstein’s style is tricky to describe: she’s not showy or flowery, and doesn’t always scour her vocabulary for the mot juste. What she does have is an uncanny instinct for how much to reveal and how much to occlude. And when wondrous events transpire in this book, they’re more effective and startling, for the reserved, even prosaic, descriptions of them.
There’s a present day plot thread that introduced dramatic tension but never quite felt adequately supported, and I found the diction of the oldest of the quoted texts a little unconvincing, even allowing for the unconventional education of its author. I also thought the novel’s concluding handful of paragraphs were unworthy of what went before, with a touch neater resolution than I would have preferred. But these quibbles don’t stop me from enthusiastically recommending the book.