Epiphyte Book Review up to review index
1999 Nebula final ballot


by Sean Stewart

hardcover edition

Mockingbird is a lush, humorous story about mothers and daughters and sisters, an original fantasy that borders on magical realism.

It begins with the funeral of Elena Beauchamp, an eccentric Southern woman prone to fits of clairvoyance and possession. She is survived by her long-suffering husband and two daughters, Candy and Toni. Candy has inherited Elena's precognitive visions, but she only foresees "happy things." Toni has spent her entire life defining herself as the opposite of her mother; she's an insurance actuary, with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and a hatred of deception. She has always disliked magic, but her mother's final gift to Toni is a drink of Mockingbird Cordial, which passes Elena's supernatural gifts on to her unwilling daughter. Toni, who much preferred a head full of actuarial tables to one full of her mother's demons, finds her life pulling apart under the strain.

Most fantasies treat magic as a benevolent force or a tool that can be mastered. Through Toni's eyes, magic is an implacable and dangerous phenomenon. Like monsters in the closet, it's inherently unknowable, and therefore uncontrollable. Mockingbird is really about Toni learning to cope with things she can't control: her magic, her family, the Texas weather.

Stewart's narrative voice is clear and distinct, with the poignancy and tangible Southern atmosphere of Michael Bishop's better books. The dialogue is earthy and frank. The relationships and responsibilities among the female characters are portrayed in considerably more depth than the romantic relationships, which is unusual. There are a few well-drawn male characters, but they are eclipsed by the women, who are vivid and unique. Mockingbird is a character study that proves that a man can write with humor and insight about women.

When you get down to the bottom of the bottle, as Momma used to say, this is the story of how I became a mother. I want that clear from the start. Now, it's true that mine was not a typical pregnancy. There was some magic mixed up in there, and a few million dollars in oil- field speculation, and some people who died, and some others who wouldn't stay quite dead. It would be lying to pretend there wasn't prophecy involved, and an exorcism, and a hurricane, and I scorn to lie. But if every story is a journey, then this is about the longest trip I ever took, from being a daughter to having one.

It starts the day we buried Momma.

-- Christina Schulman.
Reviewed in
July 1998

hardcover edition
Publisher: Ace
Date: August 1998
ISBN: 0-441-00547-0
Binding: hardcover
Pages: 272
Price: US $21.95

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