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Goddess "" Earth "" Cosmology "" Women's Health "" Reader Contributions "" Book Reviews "" Editor's Desk

Fiction in Review: Plumage and Wild Life

Here are reviews of two books I have thoroughly enjoyed and keep on my "feminist spirituality" book shelf. Though you may find them under general fiction and fantasy at a public library, the themes of understanding through a shared sisterhood (between a human and a wild creature) in Wild Life, and a woman finding herself in unconventional ways in Plumage set them apart as works of feminist spirituality for me.

Though each was published four years ago, they're still available through libraries and online sources such and

Plumage -- by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Perennial. ISBN 0380801205. 234 pages. 2000.

Plumage is the most sweetly bizarre fantasy novel I've read in some time. Sassy Hummel is an ordinary woman who has been dumped after giving twenty-seven years of her life (twenty-eight years and seven months if you count the courtship and odds and ends) to an ungrateful, ordinary husband. Having devoted her life to making a comfortable home for said husband, the only skills she has acquried along the way are those of the housekeeping arts. To keep herself from starving she uses these skills by taking a job as a maid at the Sylvan Towers Hotel. There she meets the extraordinary Racquel, owner of a very unusual clothing boutique called…Plumage. Sassy turns to Racquel for help when a parakeet unceremoniously (or so Sassy thinks) poops on her head. As unmagical as that might sound, it is the beginning of the most magical adventure anyone could dream of having. The small bird has chosen to bestow this gift on Sassy because he sees her as his sacred Goddess Tree, and she will soon discover that she can never go back to being ordinary again.

The next time Sassy looks in a mirror she finds that she sees everyone, including herself, as some sort of bird. Because of this oddity, she discovers a secret that Racquel is desperate to hide. The secret nearly destroys the fragile friendship that has begun to develop between these two very different people. However, the somewhat dumpy Sassy and the wildly flamboyant Racquel are forced to work together in a magical, but sometimes frightening world they accidently discover after falling through a mirror. Alice's adventures in Wonderland seem pretty tame compared to what this pair encounters. Both find that they are looking for something they didn't even know they have been missing.

eanwhile, Kleet, the little pooping parakeet, (who is actually from the world beyond the looking glass) has also been missing something major in his life. The three lives tangle in a most satisfying (and sometimes painful) way, helped along by an unlikely and practically unrecognizable fairy godmother.

This is a wonderful story of finding lost things: oneself, love, spirituality, beauty and the joy of life.

Wild Life -- by Molly Gloss
Publisher: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0684867982. 256 pages. 2000.

Wild Life is such an incredible work of fiction/fantasy that it feels like neither. I became so caught up in the very real-seeming world presented to me that I came away from the story certain it must be real, or at the very least a real possibility.

Charlotte Bridges Drummond is a strong, independent single mother of five young boys in the early 1900's. She makes a living for herself and her family by writing women's adventure novels. Told in first person, Charlotte's wonderful voice draws the reader into her life near the Columbia River where she does many things women are expected not to do. When a young child, who has gone for a visit with her father to a logging camp where he works some distance away, is lost in the wilderness, Charlotte decides to join the men who are combing the woods looking for the girl. Always one for doing things her way and on her own, Charlotte eventually strays from the other searchers and is lost herself. This is the turning point where Charlotte's (and perhaps our own) views of nature, wilderness, civilization and reality are changed forever.

Legends of a semi-human beast known as a sasquatch have been told for generations by both whites and Native Americans throughout the Pacific Northwest. Charlotte has certainly heard these legends, but not until she is starving and near death has she entertained the idea that there might be something to them. To her amazement she begins to glimpse a small group of these creatures and eventually is taken in by them. The incredible bond that develops between Charlotte and the band of sasquatch is both appealing and painful because we know it can not last forever. Charlotte begins to share a sense of sisterhood with an adult female who she names Cleo, which, in the author's gifted hands, is made totally believable. Through these creatures, Charlotte comes to understand herself in ways that had not been possible while she was buried in layers of what we call civilization.

Gloss's portrayal of the family of sasquatch is so well done that I found myself thinking her explanations of how such a mythical beast could be true but never proven, were absolutely possible, and why hadn't I ever thought of them myself. The group's encounters with other humans and what they must do to keep themselves hidden pierced my heart and I began to think that I, like Charlotte, might be able to understand the feelings of an alien being without ever hearing her thoughts.

In the end, the disparate parts of Charlotte's life come together and she is profoundly changed and yet still very much herself. Wild Life is not an easy story with a lovely pat ending, but it is a deeply satisfying story.

Graphics Credits

  • Book Covers, Plumage and Wild Life.
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