by George: A Novel by Wesley Stace (2007), 378 pages
The idea for the story is quite fun, perhaps even ingenious. Chapters alternate between the perspectives of George, ventriloquist’s dummy, and George Fisher, grandson of said ventriloquist Joe King Fisher (hence the title). The second George is a schoolboy of 11 in 1970s London.
The Fisher family lacks men: the overbearing matriarch is Echo Endor, who made a living and a known commodity of the Fisher name as a ventriloquiste; her daughter-in-law Queenie does puppet shows for children’s parties; Queenie’s daughter Frankie is quite the stage star.
I felt like the story was continually on the verge of devastating. It never quite got there, but I was often afraid to pick it back up again because I thought it was going to be sad (and I did continue to pick it back up, until I’d finished it, in a few days’ time). Still, considering all that happens in the book, I don’t know how that feeling was never really reached in the text.
Really, though, the story is about secrets — keeping them, how and when (or how and when not) to reveal them. The Fisher family keeps secrets and the peace by maintaining strict silence on certain issues. Some people know certain secrets, while others know of different secrets, maintained over decades. In reality, there are so many secrets to keep that each hardly talks to the others.
This book makes me give thanks for whole families. Families built on a strong enough foundation that they can endure differing opinions, heartache and secret-telling without being annihilated.
by George is a well-written novel, and I liked some aspects of it (including the title, see above). I appreciated the symmetry of the story (for example, how both Joe and George are named for ventriloquist’s dummies of previous generations in the family). I also liked how the story depicted the rise of television and its impact on earlier forms of art and entertainment.
It wasn’t, for me, a great read, though. The main hindrance was that it dwelt in the melancholy. It didn’t help, though, that the characters were dealt heavy blows and carried on with merely a hefty dose of apparent indifference.
You might like this book better than I did if you’re particularly interested in ventriloquism and/or multi-generational family dramas. Or, if you’re not as impacted by dysfunction and melancholy in books you read.
Stace’s first book, Misfortune, was apparently chosen by Amazon as one of the best books of 2005.