These words haunted me all throughout my reading of Aaron Starmer's conclusion to The Riverman Trilogy. Once again I had the immense priviledge of reading an ARC, and once again I fell in love. For those of you who've read my reviews of both The Riverman AND The Whisper, you will know that these books are some of my favorites. And this last book, The Storyteller, is no exception.
The story begins with love, though not the kind that is too often cliche and dare I say, unrealistic? No. This is not a boy meets girl, falls in unreasonable love, skips into the sunset kind of story. No. No. No. Keri Cleary, Alistair's sister, is the narrative voice through which readers are guided to the end of this story. In one rather simple line, "We all love our brothers, in spite of the fact that none of us has a clue what's really in their hearts," Starmer gives us everything we need to understand.
As a sibling myself, with a younger brother as well, I understood this difficult kind of love: the kind fraught with fights and arguments and ultimately bound by the the bond of blood. I think even an only child would instantly feel the responsibility and confusion Keri feels for what is happening.
And what is happening? Well for those who've yet to read these AMAZING novels, I will simply say that children are missing, and Alistair Cleary may hold the key to their disappearences. For those who have read these books you'll know who I am talking about.
The terrific thing about this book is that it picks up almost directly where The Whisper left off. But just as Starmer changed up the style in the sequel, he's done something equally experimental in this novel: he's changed the narrator completely, thus shifting the focus while still keeping the stakes high and the tension thick.
Because Keri does not know the nuanced details of Alistair's trip to Aquavania, nor the existence of Aquavania, readers are able to experience this story through new eyes. But just as any skilled puzzle-maker can do, Starmer has left clues for readers that will spark recognition along the way. Granted these are often the smallest of details: a dead hummingbird, a waterfall, a glowing wombat, etc. Many of these even exist in Keri's own stories, because, yes, Keri is a storyteller, just like Alistair and Fiona and especially Aaron Starmer.
In The Riverman, the narrative was comprised of linear story elements; the day to day life of Alistair. But what made it so unique were Fiona Loomis's stories told throughout. Now Starmer replicated this experimental form of storytelling in the sequel by giving us stories of other people, breaking up Alistair's time in Aquavania along the way. In this novel, Keri tells stories about handguns and candy canes and many of them have no real end, but rather reveal in a very psychological way, how Keri is dealing with the prospect that her brother has done something terrible.
I absolutely LOVED these stories, because as previously stated, the details worked like clues, leading me to the end of this novel, which I prolonged as long as possible. I think to say I loved this book would be an understatment. Part heartbreak, part poetry, and even part writing craft book, there were too many things and people to fall in love with. And many of these people were so utterly flawed that I had to love them even more.
What acts as an examination of childhood trauma and wel all must cope with such things, The Storyteller works as both a fantastical thrill-ride and true tale that will help both children and adults alike who've dealt with difficulty. And along the way, we learn that “Life is a series of paths. To helping people. To hurting people. To leaving certain places and certain people behind. For better or worse.” I think this is so significant to both this story, and all the stories we have inside: the things we hide, the people we've forgotten, the choices we make.
Now I can't possibly spoil this ending for any of you, but I will say there is an end. Keri reconciles this exact fact within her stories and her life, and it feel like Starmer trying to help the reader let go of this world, in much the same way that any storyteller must finally let go.
All stories must end.
But before they do, I think there needs to be a sense of something. Whether that be finished business, the tying up of loose ends, a new beginning; I don't know. One thing that Aaron Starmer accomplishes is a fulfillment of character and story arcs, a proclivity toward the poetic which lends to the lush lyrical writing that readers have already come to know. And maybe, most importantly, the heartbreak that hides within all of our lives. Starmer reminds us that life is filled with possibilities, and most poignantly: “Let's face it, our memories aren't perfect. We don't get anything exactly right.”
Reflecting back on the memory of reading these books, I can honestly say these have changed me as a reader, a writer, and most importantly, as a person. The words feel more real than certain conversations I've had with real people, because even as I write this, I know those people weren't really real. I know those people broke me in much the same way these characters are broken, and I know it is okay to be sort-of-shattered.
Eventually something as small as a phosphorescent friend will cork those cracks, a story will help put you back together, and in the end, “You tend to tell yourself that feeling something is always better than feeling nothing."
And by the end of this series, you will come to understand “There's something absurdly comforting about the notion that we live in a universe of infinite possibilities.”
Here's to believing in that kind of universe.