Martin Millar , The Good Fairies of New York (Soft Skull Press, 2006)
As I began reading The Good Fairies of New York (thanks to friends’ recommendations and Neil Gaiman’s introduction), I thought “Whoa! It is Vonnegut with fairies thrown in!” Now, I like Kurt Vonnegut. I like his direct way of speech, his cutting summary of events and people; he uses just the right phrase to throw the scene into relief against your mind’s eye, with just enough suggestion to make you eagerly layer in the details. Martin Millar subscribes to this theory as well and he makes the prose style his.
I also like fairies. Not the sickeningly cute, pastel-colored softies adorning children’s vapid storybooks. I mean real fairies. Bastard fairies who steal your whiskey and tie your shoelaces together so you can’t chase after them. Who take the cream from the milk on the doorstep as their due, and will make all sorts of mischief if you dare disdain the custom. I even appreciate, shall we say, their darker cousins known by such maliciously intriguing names as Red Caps and Pucas.
So, honestly, how could I fail to love fairies in ripped kilts who played the Ramones on their fiddles? And wanted to start a radical fairy punk band? Especially such unapologetic, quarrelsome rascals and drunken-trouble magnets as Heather and Morag? The answer is that I can’t, even as they wreck their lives further by astutely doing the absolute wrong thing at successively worse times.
Like starting an all-out fairy race war among the Chinese, Italian, and African immigrants of New York City. How could a mere two fairies manage that, all on their lonesome and with only one fiddle between them (most of the time)? You’ll honestly just have to discover that for yourself. I’ll simply say they manage it quite well before an army of English fairies show up, lately press-ganged by their king into spreading his expansionist ideals.
If awesomely-characterized fairies aren’t enough for you and you’re not even satiated by fairy politics, then never fear: there’s a human interest story as well. In fact, it is the human relationships that Heather and Morag (and all the rest of them) form that make them ‘good’ fairies. These relationships give the story a depth and a connection to regular people’s lives that I haven’t seen done so well (outside of Charles de Lint novels) in quite some time.
One might even say that Millar’s human characters are aggressively normal. Their lives are a mixture of the petty and the sublime, allowing for the bad days (when you’re just generally an unlovely human being or when your Crohn’s disease is flaring up) and the good days (when you find an amazing flower or when you’re transfigured by love). The antics of the fairies might drag you into the book and do well enough at keeping you flipping the pages, but it’ll be the resolution of the humans that leaves you feeling fulfilled at the end of the novel.
For my part, I will be running, not walking– well, okay, I’ll be driving quickly (but within all traffic laws)– to the nearest book store in pursuit of Martin Millar’s new offering, Lonely Werewolf Girl. If The Good Fairies of New York is any indication, it’ll be one hell of a ride, and I need more books like that in my life.
This review was originally published at Green Man Review on April 20th, 2008.