Posted by : atcampbell | On : June 20, 2000

Mockingbird by Sean Stewart

We discussed Mockingbird at Elaine Powell’s house, where the meeting was combined with a pizza dinner and a pool party. Fifteen people showed up to partake of one or more of these activities. We had two first-time participants, including one out-of-state FACT member who’d been following our group through The FACT Sheet for years.

Mockingbird is an urban fantasy novel set in Houston. The narrator, Toni Beauchamp, is a thirtiesh actuary whose mother has recently passed away. Her mother had been involved with voodoo, and the spirits who once visited and possessed her mother are now turning their attentions to Toni. During the course of the novel Toni has to deal with voodoo spirits, her family, job stress, dating, a hurricane, a disappointing Astros team, and becoming a mother herself.

We generally found this book to be a joy to read. The narrative voice was engaging, and the Houston atmosphere rang true. Although Toni related events to us out of chronological order, we had no trouble following the story or keeping the order of events straight. Weaving stories about the voodoo spirits and anecdotes of Toni’s childhood into the narrative gave it a rich texture. This book’s take on voodoo loa was fresh. We appreciated reading a fantasy novel in a contemporary familiar setting. As one in our group put it, “This is not elfy-welfy fantasy. If you need a map, you can buy one at Wal-Mart!”

Many of us considered Mockingbird to be a “chick book”. The narrator and most of the supporting characters are female. Toni’s father speaks almost entirely in baseball metaphors. Men aren’t important in Toni’s life, and she manages to get pregnant without a man’s participation. Once she becomes pregnant, much of the rest of the book is suffused with discussion of the pregnancy. The women in our group agreed that Stewart, a male author, did an outstanding job describing a female point of view. The mothers at the discussion declared the pregnancy experiences of a first-time mother were accurately portrayed. Some of the intimate discussions among the female characters in the book were so frank that the men in our group had trouble reading them. The discussion leader almost wished that he could have read the dreaded Chapter Eight with his eyes closed.

Not everyone loved everything about this book. We all had a hard time believing a family could live in Houston without air conditioning. Many of us felt that the actuarial and financial jargon relating to Toni’s job was boring. Some people felt the novel read too much like mainstream literature; they wanted the supernatural elements to be explored further. One person found a certain scene so traumatizing that he was afraid he could never eat green beans again. The person who liked Mockingbird least declared, somewhat surprisingly, that “nothing happens in this book.”

The highest compliment we can pay to Sean Stewart is that his book was so interesting, we delayed getting in the pool for nearly an hour so that we could keep discussing it. We had a great time eating pizza and swimming, and we appreciate Elaine’s hospitality.

— A. T. Campbell, III