Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pg. 69: Wesley Stace's "by George"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: Wesley Stace's by George.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the illustrious history of the theatrical Fishers, there are two Georges. One is a peculiar but endearing 11-year-old, raised in the seedy world of `70s boarding houses and backstages, now packed off to school for the first time; the other, a garrulous ventriloquist's dummy who belonged to George's grandfather, a favorite traveling act of the British troops in World War II. The two Georges know nothing of each other — until events conspire to unite them in a search to uncover the family's deepest secrets.

While the dummy lays dusty, silent, and abandoned, his young namesake sets out to learn about his dead grandfather's past as a world-famous ventriloquist, his magical powers, and their family's curious history. Weaving the boy's tale and the puppet's 'memoirs,' by George unveils the fascinating Fisher family — its weak men, its dominant women, its disgruntled boys, and its shocking and dramatic secrets. At once bitingly funny and exquisitely tender, Stace's novel is the unforgettable journey of two young boys separated by years but driven by the same desires: to find a voice, and to be loved.

Among the early praise for by George:
"By George is one of those rare works of fiction with an essential triple helix — it's funny, it's clever and it's perfectly woven together with story. If writing is how we imagine not being lonely, as Wesley Stace suggests, then his conjuring trick as a writer is that he brings a large crowd along with him. This is a wonderful follow-up to his debut novel, Misfortune."
--Colum McCann, author of Zoli and Dancer

"Singer-songwriter John Wesley Harding, writing under his given name Wesley Stace (Misfortune), crafts a British performing family's saga filled with wit, warmth and imagination. George Fisher is 11 years old in 1973 when his mother, Frankie, enjoying a successful run as Peter Pan, delivers him to Upside Boarding School. George misses his family, particularly his 93-year-old great-grandmother Evangeline, who for many years performed as a ventriloquist — as did her son, Joe. Under the watchful eye of the headmaster, George learns to escape student responsibilities by cheating, throwing his voice and befriending the groundskeeper, who gives him ventriloquism how-to books. George's school-days narrative alternates with another memoiristic voice from 1930, that of Joe's dummy, also called George. While George the schoolboy leaves Upside, eventually finding work in the family business, George the dummy accompanies Joe on the road to entertain troops during WWII. In different eras, boy and dummy each finds his own voice, plus some understanding of a world full of trickery and illusion. Family secrets revealed are not much of a surprise, but Stace amasses enough gently ironic humor (including sly references to Harry Potter and David Copperfield), emotion and insight to carry his voices beautifully."
--Publishers Weekly

"Stace...has a real talent for re-creating a variety of settings, from battlefields to boarding houses to the backstages of vaudeville. This novel is an original, and it ends with a most satisfying revelation."
--Library Journal

"Characters spring to life in the words of the sardonic dummy, whose pointed comments about his wacky family make the book a hoot to read and beg the question, 'Who's in control, the puppet or the puppet master?' Book groups will enjoy sorting out this one!"
Read an excerpt from by George and more about the novel at Wesley Stace's website and his MySpace page.

Read the author's "Res Ipsa Loquitur: Why I Wrote by George."

The Page 69 Test: by George.

--Marshal Zeringue