Helen and Rachel McCallister, who live in a town called Roam, are as different as sisters can be: Helen, older, bitter, and conniving; Rachel, beautiful, naive--and blind. Read more...
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Helen and Rachel McCallister, who live in a town called Roam, are as different as sisters can be: Helen, older, bitter, and conniving; Rachel, beautiful, naive--and blind. When their parents die suddenly, Rachel has to rely on Helen for everything, but Helen embraces her role in all the wrong ways, convincing Rachel that the world is a dark and dangerous place she couldn't possibly survive on her own...or so Helen believes, until Rachel makes a surprising choice that turns both their worlds upside down.
In this new novel, southern literary master Daniel Wallace returns to the tradition of tall tales and folklore made memorable in his bestselling novel "Big Fish." Wildly inventive and beautifully written, "The Kings and Queens of Roam" is a big-hearted tale of family and the ties that bind.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-04
- Reviewer: Staff
The fifth novel from Wallace (Big Fish) is an imaginative, sentimental modern-day tall tale. Its setting, the village of Roam (quite possibly in the Appalachian Mountains), is centered on a once-thriving silk factory established by the local patriarch, Elijah McCallister, after he returned from China with silk worms as his cargo and a young silk merchant, Ming Kai, as his prisoner. One hundred years later, Elijah’s teenaged great-granddaughters Helen and Rachel are left to fend for themselves after their parents die in a freak auto crash. The eldest, Helen, cursed with a face “ugly from the day she was born,” deceives the blind Rachel into thinking herself the homely one, never telling her she has “the face of an angel.” The difficulties of the sisters’ relationship climax with Helen abandoning Rachel, who in her agitation flees into the surrounding forest. Meanwhile, ghosts from decrepit Roam’s glory days mingle with its current residents, including diminutive tavern owner Digby Chang. Throw a lonely but helpful lumberjack named Mr. Smith into the mix, along with a magical river, and Wallace’s far-fetched, rollicking yarn, written in the vein of Manly Wade Wellman and Fred Chappell, consistently engages the reader. Agent: Gray Tan, the Grayhawk Agency. (May)
Sisterly deception from the author of 'Big Fish'
Sisters Rachel and Helen live in Roam, a place that “felt like the abandoned capital of an ancient civilization: still a wonder to behold, out here in the middle of nowhere, but worn down, broken, nearly empty.”
At 17, Rachel is the younger of the sisters, blind since the age of 3 and cared for by Helen since their parents died in a car accident. Rachel is beautiful, while Helen “was ugly since the day she was born.” Their outsides match their insides: Rachel is pure and kind, and Helen is bitter and needy. She lets her younger sister believe that she is the ugly one, and that the world is too dangerous to ever venture outside of Roam. No one in Roam realizes the cruel hoax Helen has perpetrated, not even Jonah, the hapless local mechanic Helen’s been involved with since he was a teenager.
Rachel and Helen are sure they’ll spend the rest of their days together in Roam, settled by their great-grandfather, who made his fortune by building a silk factory and forcing Chinese immigrants to work for him. But Helen makes a miscalculation one day that gives Rachel the chance to see for herself whether she can survive on her own.
A creative writing professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose Big Fish was made into a Tim Burton movie in 2003, Wallace specializes in novels with a tinge of folklore. The Kings and Queens of Roam is a tall-tale jaunt that features a giant lumberjack, a tiny bartender who can see all of Roam’s ghosts (he prefers to call them old-timers) and a doctor convinced he can cure Rachel’s blindness with water from an underground river.
Wallace toggles between two equally compelling stories: that of the sisters and that of their great-grandfather, Elijah McAllister, who exploits his friend Ming Kai to get rich. Set in a mossy, haunted backwoods somewhere in America, this is a whimsical, tender tale about friendship, trust and the price of second chances.