Friday, August 12, 2011

Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman

Karen Cushman is a delight, and I could stop my review right there. The integrity and authority with which she embroiders unsentimentalized and yet hopeful, trimphant narratives of Elizabethan England -- about powerless girls, no less -- leaves me in awe and commits me to working harder at my own craft. Meggy Swann, unwanted by both her parents, is a cripple by birth foisted off upon her self-absorbed father, an amoral alchemist toiling to convert elements into gold. He barely takes notice of her existence. Her only friend is Louise, a crippled goose. But Meggy makes others in time, despite those who view her handicap as proof of an alliance with the devil. Roger Oldham, in particular, an apprentice to an actor, becomes her friend. Here's an exchange between them, trimmed a bit:

Meggy: "I am not your Mistress Swann, you tottering wretch."
Roger: "Fortunate that is for me, you mewling, flap-mouthed flax wench."
Meggy: "Gleeking swag-bellied maggot."
Roger: "Knoddy-pated whey face."
Meggy: "You bloviating windbag."
Roger: "You, Mistress Margret, are passing skilled at this matter of insults, you milk-livered minnow."
Meggy: "I grew up in an alehouse, you wart-necked mammering clap dish."

Much more was left out in the interests of space, but ... pure Hepburn and Tracy, that is! I don't remember when a book has transported and delighted me so well. Even if historical fiction isn't your young reader's mug of ale, urge Alchemy and Meggy Swann upon them. This gleeking swag-bellied maggot insists upon it.