Larque on the Wing

by Nancy Springer

Cover image

Publisher: Avon
Copyright: February 1994
Printing: February 1995
ISBN: 0-380-76742-2
Format: Mass market
Pages: 277

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Larque Harootunian is a wife and mother, taking care of three children and her occasionally out-of-work husband while painting "home-decoration products." Which involve a lot of cows. It's not a bad life; indeed, she thinks it's a rather comfortable, complacent life. Until Skylark shows up: obnoxious, unbathed, scrawny, insulting, and translucent, a doppelganger of herself at ten.

Larque has always been able to create doppelgangers of people. Mental images of others that she thinks about too much tend to become temporarily real, or at least as real as ghosts. Generally, they float around for a while and disappear. There have been some intensely embarassing instances of naked people in the supermarket, but otherwise she and her family have gotten used to them. At first, she thinks Skylark is just another one of them, but for some reason Skylark can talk. And gets into her paints and make a wreck of the canvas she had been saving for something special whose time never seemed to come. And gets her thinking about her life.

A female mid-life crisis isn't typical literary fare, and certainly isn't typical fantasy fare. That's one of several things that makes this book so unusual. Another is its handling of interesting characters against a backdrop of mundane life, while staying true to both. A lot of wild things happen to Larque over the course of this book, but they're also grounded in a sense of day-to-day concerns (like whether her husband will keep his job and whether she can continue the painting that supports their family). It's a book about rediscovering balance, and while that involves some wild see-sawing at times, Larque's re-arrival at that balance is wonderful to read.

There's a lot about sexuality here. One of Larque's first actions as the crisis grows is to discover Popular Street, a sort of magical underground for misfits and cast-outs. There, she meets Shadow and gets a bodily remake as a gay boy with detachable penis and breasts, which of course freaks her husband out considerably. That's the sort of event that, laid out in a review without context, sounds like it could derail the story, but it's handled beautifully. Springer weaves it into the tapestry of Larque's separate selves, separate desires, and separate sides of her personality, many of which she's been sadly neglecting. The story is surreal, but it's not the sort of surreality that throws the reader out of the story. It reflects both the chaos and the longings of sides of Larque that she hasn't thought about or hasn't felt courageous enough to explore.

But the best part of this story is Larque's relationship with her mother. Her mother has the ability to "blink" people, and sometimes situations. When things happen that she doesn't like, she blinks and they go away. Sometimes just for her, but increasingly by changing the other person to conform to her expectations. It's her mother who makes Skylark's situation critical (which drives much of the plot of the book), and it's her mother who brings out another side of Larque: the Virtuous Woman, who Larque spends much of the book trying to understand how to deal with.

This is an absolutely brilliant concretized metaphor for the effect of societal and parental expectations on people, and for how the focused effect of those expectations can make one feel like one is becoming a different person. Larque on the Wing is full of metaphors made literal, and like this one, they're usually brilliant and insightful. And the resolution of Larque's conflict with her mother is both surprising and completely satisfying, part of an ending that brings together all the themes of the book in a wonderfully appropriate conclusion.

I also really liked the role of Larque's family in the story. At the start of the book, her husband seems like a bit of a lump, and not particularly sympathetic to her problems. But, over the course of the book, one comes to understand why she loves him, and why he's important, without ever having him take over the center of the story. By the end of the book, he became one of my favorite characters even though there are parts of Larque that he can't really deal with. This is another bit of balance that's exceptionally well-done. It was also refreshing to have Larque's children be in the story but not be the center of either it or her life. This is Larque's story, and there's more to her than being a mother, although her children are also supportive when she needs it.

Larque on the Wing caught me by surprise. I was a bit dubious going in, and the initial surreality was off-putting. But the more of it I read, the more I liked it. There is a bit too much of Larque wandering around not knowing what to do, but only a bit; she has a lot of bad assumptions she has to face, and she comes to terms with herself fast enough that I never got really annoyed with her. The story is humorous, thoughtful, raunchy, and sarcastic in turns, and taken as a whole is one of the best portrayals of a mid-life crisis and of coming to terms with one's family that I've ever read. Recommended.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2012-05-08

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21