Makara – Kristen Ringman (Handtype Press)

Buy it direct from Handtype Press

I’ve come to the sea late in life. Being a Midwestern boy,
the closest I ever came was a Great Lake, but once I reached adulthood and saw
my first beach I fell in love with the ocean and its creatures, factual or
mythical. So, I was predisposed to like Kristen Ringman’s debut novel, Makara.
But I wasn’t prepared to like it quite as much as I did.

Fionnula is a Deaf Irish daughter of a selchie (part human,
part seal). Her human father is often absent, and he leaves her with friends in
India, where she falls in love with her hosts’s daughter Neela, a Hearing
woman. When she reunites with her father, he takes her away from Neela. They go
to Venice, where she takes up with a gang of street mimes and buskers, saving her
money to get back to Neela.

But Makara, like Tom Cardamone’s marvelous Green
Thumb
, is much more than its plot. It’s a unique environment. Ringman’s
smalltown Irish setting, her lovingly detailed portrait of India, and her
romantic vision of Venice remain separate places bounded by plot points, but
they also meld seamlessly into an emotional landscape. And a briny one.

The concepts of fantasy and reality are similarly mashed up
and reimagined into an atmosphere where anything is possible and the commonplace
is as rare as a faerie circ

Fionnula is a wonderful character, a chameleon who avoids
the damage from her conflicted selves by slipping between them—human seal,
Deaf, lesbian—and learning from all. Child-like yet wise, tough but vulnerable,
she is the perfect narrator. Also of note is Fionnula’s father—a bleak, craggy
combination of distant and loving, as much of a rescuer as he is damager. Their
relationship is complicated but coveyed by Ringman with wonderful detail and
understatement.

Ringman’s prose is vivid and detailed, using all her senses
to explore both Fionnula and her world. The brevity of Makara (less than
175 pages) is a shock but only because you want to spend so much more time
there. The last few pages of the book connect Fionnula’s selves in a deeply
emotional experience that I guarantee will move you on many levels.

This is a beautiful little book, full of wonder and magic.
Slip into its skin.  

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler


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