Monday, November 30, 2009

Amy Foster's WHEN AUTUMN LEAVES an "Impressive Debut"

Amy S. Foster's When Autumn Leaves is reviewed by Robert J. Wiersema in the Vancouver Sun: "When Autumn Leaves is an impressive debut from a writer with a unique vision. It's a fresh look at both small-town life and the mysteries of the universe. It's a book so winsome and charming I use these descriptors entirely free of their usual snark and condescension. The novel begins with Autumn Avening, the spiritual centre of Avening, a small town nestled in the "land of cedars . . . on a piece of lush Pacific Coast." (Think of your dream vision of a Gulf Island, free of the cranky reality.) The town, it seems, is touched by magic: People are drawn to it, sometimes despite themselves.

Autumn is a wise woman, the owner of a new age shop, though some refer to her as a witch. As the novel opens, she is informed by one of her sisters in the Jaen, a mysterious spiritual order, that it has come time for her to leave. Foster is coy with the details of this leaving, but it sets the novel in motion: Autumn is given a year to find a protege from among the women of the town.

When Autumn Leaves unfolds over the following year (demarcated by the pagan calendar and its observances) and shifts focus among a selection of the women in town who seem blessed (or, in some cases, cursed) with unique abilities. We meet Ellie, who seems to be invisible; Stella, who catches lightning in a bottle with unanticipated consequences; Piper, whose survival may depend on her ability to step between worlds. Each woman's story is clearly, affectingly told and involves Autumn in some way. As the year and the book draw to a close, Autumn makes her decision, a surprise even to herself.

While there are faint echoes of "female magic" writers like the early Anne Tyler, Foster writes with a voice and a sensibility wholly her own. There is little comfort, and there are few easy answers, in When Autumn Leaves. This is a novel of heartbreak and hard questions, balanced with a haunting beauty. I found it difficult, at times, to interrupt my reading, and the ending, while it rounded out the central story nicely, left me wanting more. Fortunately, there are more Avening novels planned."

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