Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Keeper by Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt set a very high bar for herself with her previous novel The Underneath, a richly magical tale set in the Texas bayou, which was lauded as a modern classic reminiscent of Sounder and The Yearling.  In my opinion it was much more sophisticated than these older stories, although it did center similarly around the emotional lives of animals and their vulnerability to human interference.   Keeper, published this year, is an equally lovely but lighter story, maintaining the depth and mystery of The Underneath but conjuring up a tone of poignancy rather than suspense and heartbreak. 

Appelt is a literary writer and her style is an important part of the reading experience.  It's the kind of style you either like or you don't. This is a meandering story, which moves backwards and forwards in time and follows many different points of view.  The pacing is leisurely. The imagery is skilled and poetic.  This is not a book to race through, but a book to wander with and enjoy.  However, Appelt is not one to let her wanderings lead nowhere--she knows exactly where she is taking us.  She is taking us into the heart of family, into the heart of belonging.

Keeper is a ten-year-old girl having a bad day before a blue moon.  The problem is, blue moon days are rare and special, and the people Keeper loves most in the world have had dreams and wishes centered around this particular blue moon.  Signe wants to make her seductive blue moon crab gumbo.  Dogie wants to sing "marry me" to Signe.  Mr. Beauchamp wants to see his mysterious lost love, Jack, one last time.  But Keeper has ruined the gumbo, burned the gumbo pot, broken the ukelele and let the dog destroy Mr. Beauchamp's night-blooming cyrus.  Overwhelmed by her problems, Keeper decides to take a boat out to the sandbar at night to meet Meggie Marie, her mermaid mother, in hopes that a mother's love can help her solve her problems.  But in the dark of the night, Keeper's small boat is swept out to sea and she loses an oar.  There are no mermaids sparkling around the sandbar.  And despite the blue moon shining in the sky, Keeper can no longer find her way home. 

This is the kind of story where we experience loss only so we can also experience the joy of being found.   By the end of the story, Keeper has found her true mother, Dogie and Signe have found what they mean to each other, and Mr. Beauchamp...well, what he finds is most miraculous at all. I have to say that I took great pleasure in how matter-of-factly Appelt has woven the romance of these two old men, one with "wrinkles upon wrinkles" and one "as old as barnacles",  into her tale of inclusion.  The image of Mr. Beauchamp and Jacques de Mer holding hands was, for me,  one of the loveliest in this whole lovely story.

No comments: