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A unique love develops between Willow, a black woman still recovering from a painful failed marriage, and her new neighbor Clement, who may be a little strange but who gives her the courting and attention she needs.
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More science fiction than magical realism, Faraday's Popcorn Factory introduces readers to a vivid small-town world, where childhood reminiscences and romantic visions meet and overlap.
The plot is the stuff of classic romance novels: A mysterious stranger comes to the Ohio town of Good Sky and wins the heart of a young woman who has given up on love. The difference here is that this stranger is a newcomer not only to the town but to the human form as well.
Readers are introduced to Clement, the novel's romantic catalyst, as he travels through the galaxy, a nebulous force of nature. Born into a family with such duties as creating hurricanes, controlling the seasons and bringing on the night sky, this abstract being decides to take human form when he first sees Willow, a young black woman whose heart has been broken one too many times.
The story's strength comes from Gould's finely detailed sense of character and place, which is heightened by her use of alternating narrators. Each chapter is "guest-hosted" by a different character whose first-person account moves the story along. We sometimes hear the same account from different characters, a technique that gives the story richness and depth, like an event filmed from different camera angles.
The chapters narrated by the secondary characters contain the book's most interesting passages, from the introspective struggles of Willow's old flame Jimmy, to her wild, trash-talking grandmother, Lucille. A chapter narrated by Willow's landlady, Ruby, is as rhythmic and soulful as a Stevie Wonder ballad: "I can still see the countryside with the pear orchards and tall pine. I can smell the grass and taste the wine we drank ... And although I've also found beauty in apple blossoms and ice patterns on window glass, I prefer a big old harvest moon with frost on still air."
When Willow and Clement make love under a tree, even the tree joins them in telling the story. "Mists slipped under and through my branches like little feathers when he whispered Willow's name."
Willow's narrative reverie mirrors the tree's. "He kissed like sunbeams ... My fingers and toes were leaves that fluttered away ... I knew for sure that, centuries later, people would come there. They would find my bones. My bones would sparkle. They would be jewels."
Faraday's Popcorn Factory is set in the l970s but feels more like the '50s. In one scene Willow places the novel in time by talking about her favorite TV shows, one of which is ironically "Mork and Mindy," the sitcom in which Robin Williams played a strange but lovable alien, not unlike Clement. Clement can read Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities in 36 seconds but can't figure out how to use contractions in his speech and wears bellbottom jeans and a tuxedo jacket to his first date with Willow. His lack of cultural assimilation can be endearing, but these kind of visitor-from-another-planet cliches fall flat after a time.
Of the narrators, Clement is the weakest. His penchant for scientific data makes for stilted passages, as when he details his mother's hurricane-causing rage in precise meteorological terms. "The first cumulonimbus capillatus, the supercell thunderstorms, formed west of Good Sky while cumulus capped by dense cirrus from distant western storms gathered. ... Mother drove that thunderstorm east along the prior storm's outflow boundaries. Cumulonimbus mamatus approached Good Sky. Their lightning sizzled."
His mother's rage is fueled by Clement's unwillingness to fulfill his duties in the realm of nature. Adding to the pressure, a powerful entity known alternately as the Afreete or Oull seeks to destroy Clement. It's clear early on that his time in Good Sky is finite. Clement, not being of this earth, eventually has to leave. But lest there be a sad ending, Willow's old flame Jimmy, humbled and renewed of purpose, returns to town in time to fill the void.
Many of the supernatural elements of the story seem unnecessary, though a few moments justify Clement's otherworldliness. At one point, unsure of how to approach Willow romantically, Clement temporarily takes on Willow's form to better understand how to please her. He spends a few nights traveling abroad to learn the various sexual techniques of different cultures around the world.
The last chapter contains a sudden plot twist that also seems superfluous. While it does tie all the novel's ends neatly together, the conclusion is achieved a little too easily, like a rabbit pulled out of a hat. The real magic in Faraday's Popcorn Factory comes from the wisdom and soul of the more familiar, down-to-earth characters who make Good Sky a place in which readers don't mind settling down. Copyright © 1998 The Washington Post Company. -- Reviewed by Holly Bass. WASHINGTON POST BOOK WORLD; Sunday, October 11, 1998, Page X07From Kirkus Reviews:
First-timer Gould aims as high and wide as the Milky Way here, but, unfortunately, the strain of her effort is painfully apparent, and what is meant to be a tale informed by magical realism often falls flat. Willow, a young black woman orphaned as an adolescent when her parents' car slipped into a ravine, is alone in the world but for her grandmother Lucille (who has ``second sight'') and her Aunt True. When Willow's heart is broken by a man, she decides to visit True, in Akron, but en route gets off the train at Good Sky, Ohio, to stretch her legs. It appears to be her destiny to stay in Good Sky; almost immediately she gets a job at Mrs. Faraday's popcorn shop, meets Ruby, who works at the candy store and who becomes a surrogate mother of sorts, and May Belle, who will be both friend and mentor. Eventually, Willow starts working at the local library, where she can be with children, whom she loves. It's there that she first encounters Clement, a mysterious neighbor who begins wooing her immediately with cards and flowers. Clement, however, is not human, although it's hard to say exactly what he ishis mother appears to be the creator of storms (tornadoes, lightning, and such), and there are allusions to his father as the creator of the universe. None of this does Willow discover until grandmother Lucille meets him and informs her that ``He ain't a natural person.'' When Willow confronts Clement, he tries to explain, but neither she (nor the reader) is quite sure what he's getting at. A perplexed Willow is destined to learn the hard way what it means to be targeted, affectionately or otherwise, by those from ``beyond.'' There are promising patches here, but, overall, Gould's astrologically informed, moon-guided debut is more elusive than it need be. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Book Description St Martins Pr, 1998. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0312185782
Book Description St Martins Pr, 1998. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0312185782