“You can hear a miracle a long way after dark.”
I’m back, bitches, and I’m here to tell you about a book I really loved, in part, because it aligns so neatly with the main reason for my prolonged absence from all things bookpunks. Maggie Stiefvater‘s newest stand alone novel, All the Crooked Saints, is about the Soria family, who lives tucked away in the Colorado high desert, catalyzing miracles for those pilgrims that seek them. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that a miracle, here, means making an inner darkness visible so that it can be addressed. I’m not going to go into the plot any more than that, because the plot isn’t really the point in this strange little gem. What is the point, then, you may well ask. The point is the language, the characters, the seamless way in which Stiefvater incorporates each magical detail into the narrative. This book may not be for everyone, but it is for me.
If you’ve been following along over the past few years, you probably know that Nikki and I both adore Maggie Stiefvater, and while I won’t presume to pontificate on why Nikki loves her, I will tell you why I love her, and that big “why” has mostly to do with her deft characterization and ability to write a beautiful sentence that could also easily fit into a conversation with a dear friend. There is something comfortable but always fresh about her writing that I could pick out of an author lineup any day of the week, but don’t test me on that, please. While this newest offering of Stiefvater’s is markedly different from her past novels, it is rich with character and turn of phrase, so felt familiar and comfortable at the same time as being a fresh adventure, of sorts. It’s exciting when an author you know well decides to try something new, and in my humble opinion she did a smashing job of it.
What’s new, then: this novel reads like a prolonged fable, with a central moral, plenty of personified animals, and a whole lot of magical realism. What makes the magical elements in All the Crooked Saints so markedly different from her other works is the way in which all the characters accept the hodge podge of magical happenings as par for the course. One could argue that The Scorpio Races also featured magic as fact instead of anomaly, but the magic in that novel fit into a specific structure and didn’t stray beyond it. The magic in All the Crooked Saints blossoms in unexpected places throughout the novel, from a desert falling in love with a young man to the abundance of owls clustering around eruptions of miracles like moths to a flame.
While I unabashedly loved each eruption of magic throughout the novel, that’s not what made me love the story itself. That would be the central moral: facing the Jungian shadow, the darkest bits of our selves that we try to push into the corners of our inner closets, gathering dust but always present. The titular Saints in All the Crooked Saints are able to call forth people’s shadows, make them visible, tangible, monstrous, so that the pilgrims can face them, understand them, and find healing. This book found me at the very end of 2017, as I looked back at a year full of death, pain, heartbreak, and an intense episode of my lifelong struggle with depression. I’ve spent a lot of the past twelve months pulling calcified pain out into the light to examine it, to understand it, and hopefully to take a small step towards healing myself in the process. Many people turn away from that kind of darkness, not out of cruelty, but out of fear. Fear that the darkness is contagious, fear of what that darkness reflects back on them. Much of this book touches on the ways in which darkness festers when we turn our backs on it, and how the only way we can dissolve that calcified pain within us is to bring it into the open and acknowledge it. This is a book that I needed to read at exactly the time that I read it, and that in and of itself is a kind of magic.
Now, as a book punk, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Stiefvater’s treatment of the Latinx Soria family as the main cast of characters, because I think it’s important to look at the ways in which white authors portray POC experiences. I am not Latinx, so my opinion is worth next to nothing here, so the most I can say is that it didn’t feel exploitative or appropriative, and Stiefvater’s work read as well-researched, rich, and respectful. HOWEVER. This isn’t my culture, so I can’t speak beyond that very surface assessment. I’d love to hear reactions from any of our Latinx book punks out there who have read it, and I recommend having a look at Giselle from A Book and a Cup of Coffee‘s review for a more substantial examination of the topic.
Musical accompaniment is easy, because of dear Diablo Diablo‘s pirate radio show broadcast from a box truck in the Colorado desert, so let’s go with one of my favorites out of the named songs, Elvis’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”