FC2, Spring 2011
The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, Kate Bernheimer’s third novel, constitutes a new kind of American classic. As a child, Lucy dreams of talking fairies and lives contentedly in the wooded suburbs of Boston. She grows up to be a successful animator of fairy-tale films. Or does she? She claims at moments to be a witch in the woods, and all along, a dark spirit lurks: her dolls go blind and the wind hisses her name. Like Lucy’s sisters Ketzia and Merry, she has a secret, and it’s the kind that lives inside books. Blithe Lucy, unconsciousness Lucy, head-in-the-sand Lucy: she is unable to fasten on anything but brightness. As novelist Donna Tartt has written of The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, “Lucy’s particular brand of optimism, blind to its own shadow, is very American—she is innocence holding itself apart so fastidiously that it becomes its opposite.” This novel is a perfect end to the Gold family trilogy (The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold and The Complete Tales of Merry Gold), and the perfect introduction, for new readers, to Bernheimer’s enchanted body of work.
Chapter One: The Golden Key
One winter day, when the ground outside my cottage was covered in snow, I went into to the forest to bring back some wood. I loaded the wood onto a sled. I was so cold, I thought I would make a fire and sit beside it a while before I went home. No one waited for me in the cottage, apart from the dear spiders and mice. I cleared a space in the snow by scraping at it with a stick, intending to sit down and warm my bones. Soon I uncovered a golden key. “Where there’s a key,” I thought, “there is surely some magic.” You might expect that I desired to dig more, and discover a locked iron box. You might expect me to have wished that this iron box were full of glittering things. You might expect me to have fit the key perfectly into the lock of the box, and that I would have turned it and turned it with hope. You might even wonder what terrible marvels I found in there, what sadness or evil they brought into the world. Yet I had no such desire to discover the sadness or evil. Sure as the forest is made up of trees and dirt and needles and worms, these are now and can always be lucky trees and dirt and needles and worms. It’s a trick of the mind, this desire for peace. Yet just the same, I can assure you no story has ever waited for me. Only the darkened night with death by three. All happiness once was taken from me. Please solve the riddle; I can no longer speak.
With The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, Kate Bernheimer brings to a close one of my favorite fictional projects of the last decade. Each slim volume of her trilogy is like one of those storybook houses that is much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, and within each house is a family, and within each family is a girl, and that girl just might be you. I love these books, every sharp, secret, entrancing page of them.
Each of Kate Bernheimer's marvelous books is precious, strange and impossible to anticipate-- an oyster concealing a tiger's eye or a child's game of doll tea staged by Heronymous Bosch. Like her sisters Merry and Ketzia, Lucy serves up a darkly delicious bottle of Drink Me.
It is Kate Bernheimer's formidable act of sorcery to take the fairy tale--that most ancient of forms--and turn it into something so brand-new under the sun there isn't even a name yet for what she's doing. Reading The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold, I felt part of myself restored to that condition of innocence I'd felt as a child, rapt, turning the pages, wondering what will happen next, reading a fairy tale. Of course, as Lucy herself proves and as Kate Bernheimer is harrowingly aware, the condition is impossible--there is no innocent magic.
--Kathryn Davis, author of The Thin Place