Larque on the Wing: Book Review

Blurb: Larque Harootunian is having a mid-life crisis. But Larque, wife, mother and painter isn’t like most 40-year-olds. All her life she’s been generating “doppelgangers,” psychic manifestations of her thoughts that can impact and, as she suddenly realizes, impede, the reality of her own life. She embarks on a journey of self-exploration that culminates in her transformation–a common occurrence in this world–into an attractive gay man. In the end, she must weigh the attractions of this existence against the good aspects of her actual life. A 1995 James Tiptree Award winner.

Stars: 3.5/5

There’s a teaser I posted recently that seems to encapsulate this book: “And if Shadow was gay—then he was like her. Dimly, with her burning heart more than her mind, she began to understand why she had always liked gay men. They suffered, were persecuted, they were outsiders in a world where studbuck male heteros held all the power, they did not count, they were Other—the way women were.” 

Larque on the Wing is an original, weird, thought-provoking read, but I am not sure if I enjoyed it.

I did keep reading it, yes, because it’s a strong commentary on society’s expectations of women – this is Larque’s mid-life crisis, where we’re privy to what her hopes and dreams were as a child, and she, like us, see that she’s left those dreams long behind.

The book was written years ago, and it’s set in a contemporary society, though it’s one in which magic is an accepted reality. Larque herself has the ability to manifest doppelgangers and her mother has the ability to “blink” anything away she does not like, or “blink” something or someone into something more palatable to her tastes. Magical realism is not altogether a strange genre to me – given my love for fantasy and  sci-fi, it’s elements are familiar, and in that sense, this book is quite fun. Imagine going into a store – like a tattoo parlour – and magically changing yourself into whatever you want to be. In Larque’s case a guy, with detachable male and female body parts.

When we meet Larque, she’s a 40-something painter, happily married and successful or rather on the surface she is. And we’re immediately introduced to Skylark – an annoying, early-teen version of herself. Reminded of her past dreams through Skylark, Larque finds herself unable to paint, and so begins her search for who she wants to be now, and away from the expectations of motherhood and being a wife.

This leads her to Shadow, who magically transforms people into who they most want to be. And, Larque wants to be a young, attractive man. On the outside, that’s what everyone sees, but she’s still Larque on the inside. Magical realism, remember? These things are commonplace in this world, and Larque is excited and thrilled at her transformation, even if her husband and sons aren’t. But this young man isn’t the only version of her we see – there’s the Virtuous Larque, who comes into being because of her mother’s ability and desire for the “right” kind of daughter.

The book follows Larque in her desire to save Skylark, but it’s how it delves into the expectations we have of ourself and others that stuck with me. It’s up to Larque to decide which is the life she wants.

This feels like a half-review because understanding everything that Springer is saying, coupled with the magical realism, requires a second read I think. It’s not going to be for everyone, and it’s going to make you wonder about the expectations you (and everyone else) has of you.

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