by Gene Wolfe
I’ve noted before that Wolfe is a master of playing about with perceptions, those of his characters, and those of his readers. This novel sees those gifts in full effect, in telling a tale that’s largely about perception, and about the parts of a story we don't see. In essence, this is a narrative about a seasonal war of faerie taking place in the near vicinity of a midwestern town; but exactly what’s happening, and exactly what the stakes are, are left deliberately vague, lost in the interstices between the overlapping awarenesses of the point-of-view characters.
The novel follows the shape of a familiar myth, then, a seasonal conflict, an archetypal battle between kings, between the day and night, the summer and the winter ... though it’s not quite clear who’s playing what role. The small-town setting is almost too real, the characters too purely human, to be reduced to bit parts in a romance. Or, put another way, they're too large; from one point of view they're one character, from another another. Still, the structure of the myth takes over, and guides the story along; the characters are caught up in it, each seeing only a part of what’s actually happening. The story works because the characters are fundamentally believable — simple, many of them, but each with their passions and interests and emotions and moments of transcendence.
The mythic apparatus is well-handled, as are the full-on incursions of fantasy. Wolfe modulates, as it were, the fully human and fully fantastic by including certain of his own archetypal characters — notably, a Merlin-like wise man figure (or is he Mephisto-like?), seeming now malevolent and now benign. It all comes together elegantly at the end, and leaves you with much to think on; much to try to understand.