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Lisa Goldstein
The Uncertain Places
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2011

Tachyon Publications
US Trade Paperback First Edition
ISBN 978-1-616-96014-8
Publication Date: 06-15-2011
238 Pages; $14.95
Date Reviewed: 10-18-2011
Index:  Fantasy  General Fiction

Stories can overpower those who dare to tell them. Caught up in narrative, we become our own invention. The stories of our lives, those we know, hold us in their sway. But it is the secret stories, the hidden histories that truly rule our lives, that in fact move us in mysterious ways. Stories can be hidden for a variety of reasons. Shame will lead us to circumvent the telling of tales. But power can as well. Often is seems kinder, wiser, gentler to suppress the truth. By protecting others from the knowledge that haunts us, we can keep the lives of those we love free of spectres. Until the tale is told; because it will be told. Words can be hidden, but stories have a way of escaping into the world.

All of which informs Lisa Goldstein's excellent examination of magic, stories and family, 'The Uncertain Places,' a perfect example of social surrealism that approaches the fairy tale as a hidden family history. Goldstein uses all the tropes of genre with a deft, light hand to spin a story that crosses generations and steps lightly through history and worlds to subsume the readers' vision of reality. In Goldstein's world, those uncertain places are just as often internal as external.

Will Taylor, a pretty levelheaded guy, tells the story, which begins with his journey to wine country with his roommate, Ben. Ben's in pursuit of Maddy Feierabend, the latest generation of a family that has run a successful winery for generations. Will falls for Maddy's sister, Livvy, but in doing so, he finds that the stories in her family a bit more complicated than most. A fairytale suppressed by the Brothers Grimm seems to speak to their fate, and it doesn't have a happy ending. Will's story becomes increasing dreamlike and surreal as he finds own life increasingly immersed in the world as described in so-called "fairy tales."

The key to Goldstein's powerful and immersive narrative is her prose, the first-person storytelling voice of Will Taylor. Goldstein grounds her main narrative in a gorgeously-described California, a reality that already seems to evoke more than a soupcon of the supernatural. Will takes the reader one step at a time away from the world we know to the world that stories create, as he searches for the real reasons why the Feierabend family seems odd. Goldstein's masterful evocation of social unease with those unlike us makes the supernatural stories that slowly lead Will away from this world come to life. The stories of lives overpower the lives in which they are told.

'The Uncertain Places' is at turns wistful, sweet, funny and quite disturbing. Goldstein has a talent for conjuring stories of the unreal that read as real, and for a plot that creates real tension. Goldstein's ability to weave stories within stories gives the novel a rich, full feel, even though it is comparatively short. Still, like the fairy tales it so powerfully evokes, a few pages spent in 'The Uncertain Places' offers readers the feel of whole lives lived well, of magic brushing up close before pulling away, of our world, enchanted for just long enough to know what it is missing.

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