The Mushroom Man by Sophie Powell
Rating: ••• (Recommended)
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Sophie Powell’s first novel, The Mushroom Man, introduces a fine young writer with skill and discipline. Unlike those other “products” of creative writing programs, Powell avoids sharing every sentence she’s ever constructed with her readers. Instead, she presents a compact, 200 page story that accomplishes as much or more than her contemporaries have delivered in 600 or more pages. Lily Newman, the six year old protagonist who hears the story of The Mushroom Man from her older cousin, eleven year old triplet Amy, transports herself into the Welsh fairy world of the forest. Powell’s The Mushroom Man is no fairy tale for kids. There’s an adult motif about relationships won and lost, and the barriers and distractions to intimacy.
Here’s an excerpt of Amy presenting Lily with the story (pp. 20-23):
Toward the end, Lily turns to her mother. I can't wait to go mushroom picking tomorrow morning, Mummy.
Charlotte lets it go because she knows it's useless saying anything against it with the others there. She knows its better to wait until she and Lily are alone in their room together—the door closed, the prospect of going home early and never coming back.
For dessert they eat homemade blueberry-and-apple pie. Joseph and Nest picked the blueberries that morning among the heather on the moor and Sam climbed the apple tree yesterday evening. The warm puff pastry melts on eyerybody’s tongue, and the sugary fruit tastes of almost autumnal sunshine.
Outside, night is falling quickly and it begins to drizzle. The windows become mirrors, which Lily can't help pulling faces in, and everyone's cheeks are flushed with the heat from the stove.
Amy turns to Lily and asks if she would like to hear a fairy tale about the Mushroom Man as a bedtime story.
Lily knocks on the triplets' door when she has changed into her Peter Pan nightdress and brushed her teeth.
All three are lying on their beds watching a gangster film on the television.
I've come for a bedtime story, announces Lily.
Yes, of course, Amy says. She switches off the television with the remote control.
Sam and Jude groan.
Come and sit on my bed. Amy pats the blanket. Lily closes the door and crawls up beside her. Amy puts her arm around Lily.
Once upon a time there was an old hermit with special fairy-seeing powers who lived alone in a wigwam in the forest. This Mushroom Man, as he was later to be called, saw how the fairies suffered in the rain—especially the Welsh fairies, because it rains all the time in Wales—and he was filled with pity for them: If the fairies were nowhere near shelter, they would get their pretty lace tutus and leaf ballet shoes all wet and dirty as the earth turned to muddy mush, and they would catch a fairy cough. One day the Mushroom Man couldn't stand it any longer. Wiping a tear from his eye, he said to himself, "Blow me if I don't help these poor little fairy creatures out!" So he set out for a rare visit to the village, to the library, to try to find out what he might do. But he didn't even need to get to the library to come up with the answer. He only had to get as far as the sweetshop on the corner, where the woman at the counter had a set of false teeth that fell out whenever she talked too much. It started to rain. He stood under the stripy sweetshop canopy and watched an old lady walk past.
"By Jove, I've got it!" he exclaimed. "How silly of me not to have thought of it before! Umbrellas is what Mankind has, and umbrellas is what the fairy creatures shall have too!"
So the Mushroom Man skipped all the way back home in excitement and immediately set to making mini-umbrellas of all colors, shapes, and sizes, to fit and suit the fairy race: button mushrooms for baby fairies, short mushrooms with wide tops for dumpy fairies, white-spotted red ones for fashion-conscious fairies . . .
And whenever there was a rainy patch, he would plant the fairy umbrellas together in groups in the ground at night. In groups because fairies are sociable creatures and don't usually wander around alone. At night because, as a hermit, the Mushroom Man wanted to avoid bumping into Mankind.
As you can imagine, the fairies were over the moon. "Oh, look!" They squeaked. "No more dirtying our pretty lace tutus and leaf ballet shoes! No more fairy coughs!" They called their umbrellas "mushrooms," rooms safe from the muddy mush, and they honored their Mushroom Man, as they called him, with a wish.
"Your wish," proclaimed Princess Fairymostbeautiful to the Mushroom Man after the first appearance of the mushrooms, handing him a leaf cup of fairy plum juice, "is our command."
The Mushroom Man took a thoughtful sip of fairy plum juice, and, kneeling at the leaf ballet shoes of Princess Fairymostbeautiful and gazing up at the diamond pupils of her eyes and the golden lipstick on her lips, he addressed the golden-haired Lady of the Forest.
"Princess Failymostbeautiful, diamond-eyed, golden-lipped Lady of the Forest, I wish that I may become a fairy like you—residing, immortal and invisible, in one of your sumptuous tree palaces and drinking fairy plum juice out of leaf cups all day whilst making your mushroom umbrellas."
Princess Fairymostbeautiful nodded and sprinkled him with golden fairy dust. "You shall reside in the most sumptuous tree palace after mine, o inventive Mushroom Man." There was a bellowing burst of thunder and a zigzag flare of lightning, and the Mushroom Man grew smaller and smaller and more and more transparent until he dissolved into the fresh forest air like a boiled sweet on the tongue.
And so the Mushroom Man lives happily ever after, immortal and invisible, in a sumptuous tree palace with hundreds of red-velvet-curtained chambers with emerald chandeliers, drinking fairy plum juice out of leaf cups all day whilst making the fairies their mushroom umbrellas.
Amy slows down and quiets to a whisper with her last sentence.
Sam and Jude exchange looks and smile. There is a moment of silence, as if they're all waiting for the d at the end of Amy's final word to flutter up and away into the air and catch up with its flock of friends.
Where are the fairy- palaces in the trees? asks Lily.
All around, Amy answers. Around each tree is an invisible fairy palace.
The Mushroom Man introduces readers to a new, skilled writer, and left me in anticipation for what Powell will do with novel number two.
Steve Hopkins, April 19, 2003
ã 2003 Hopkins and Company, LLC
The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the May 2003 issue of Executive Times
URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Mushroom Man.htm
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