Some books are more than the sum of their parts,
transcending their base elements to become deeper and more important than they
might seem at first. They provide the comfort of traveling to a known
destination in familiar surroundings but take an interesting and surprising
route. Such is the case with Stefani Deoul’s The Carousel.
The plot veers dangerously close to a Lifetime movie. An
unnamed, broken woman (Charlize Theron) shows up outside the Old Town Diner, run
by the plucky Millie Hickson (Sally Field). The woman falls in love with a
bunch of trashed-out carousel horses in a nearby junkyard, and the renovation
of those horses provides the spark for the renewal of the town, its inhabitants
and her own personal journey towards wholeness.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this material might well be
mired in mawkish sentimentality, but Deoul never stoops to the cheap sob. Her
merry go round lady is dark and unpredictable, and her relationship with Millie
has a tense dynamic that gives the plot some real drama. Deoul’s prose is
straightforward and uncluttered, sharp enough to make its point and lyrical
enough to leave an impression.
The sub-plots and minor characters are also interesting and
well-drawn, especially the expert carvers Sam and Morris, whose age and
experience demand they pass their skills to an initially unwilling apprentice,
teenage Cameron. Reverend Dalton, an early cheerleader of the project, is also
a fascinating character, but nearly all the cast has a role to play in the
finish of the carousel.
If all this sounds a bit contrived, I swear you won’t
notice. The prose is that good and the characters will sweep you up in their
enthusiasm until you find yourself cheering them on, chagrined at their
setbacks and elated by their successes. If you’re expecting a strongly lesbian
novel, however, this isn’t it. There is a lesbian “twist” at the end, which any
astute reader can see coming, but this book is full of strong women in
leadership roles, taking on challenges and making dreams come true.
Stefani Deoul’s The Carousel is a warm, entertaining
read whose ending will leave you smiling and just a bit sad that it’s over. But
don’t blame me if you have visions of stately wooden horses frozen in mid-prance
as they bob up and down to calliope music and you lean out in space to grab the
Sally Field would want you to.
Reviewed by Jerry Wheeler