There was once a man, a literature professor, I believe, who had never read King Lear. He was saving back a delicious morsel of Shakespeare to anticipate all his life.
Despite having inhaled L'Engle throughout my teenage years, I have yet to read every novel she wrote. Perhaps, unconsciously, I've been rationing, too.
The Young Unicorns is an Austin family chronicle, but why the young and wherefore the unicorns? The answer is mistery.* L'Engle's cast includes no supposedly-mythical beasts, only children who, like the unicorn, must be tamed of their own free will.
The Austins are trying to settle into their new life in New York City, but their once close-knit family is pulling away from each other. Their father spends long hours alone in his study working on the research project that brought the family to the city. John is away at college. Rob is making friends with people in the neighborhood: newspaper vendors, dog walkers, even the local rabbi. Suzy is blossoming into a vivacious young woman. And Vicky has become closer to Emily Gregory, a blind and brilliant young musician, than to her sister Suzy.
With the Austins going in different directions, they don’t notice that something sinister is going on in their neighborhood—and it’s centered around them. A mysterious genie appears before Rob and Emily. A stranger approaches Vicky in the park and calls her by name. Members of a local gang are following their father. The entire Austin family is in danger. If they don’t start telling each other what’s going on, someone just might get killed.
My reflections are varied.
True--it's the Austins. How can I not devour the Austins?
But--it reads like oddly talented fan fiction. It's okay to attempt a new genre. But a new genre with the old characters is a dangerous game.
True--it's meant to feel surreal. The characters themselves feel the surreality. She was going for, I think, a "sense of mystery deepened by contact with reality" and a "sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery."
But--the realistic/fantastic balance is off. Flannery O'Connor continues: "...the person writing a fantasy has to be even more strictly attentive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a naturalistic vein--because the greater the story's strain on the credulity, the more convincing the properties in it have to be."
True--there are dated 70's moments in all of L'Engle's books.
But--those others books transcend their cliches much more successfully than The Young Unicorns does.
I enjoyed The Young Unicorns, in some places very much. But it was a fish-out-of-water experience, and if the Austins hadn't been involved, I'm not sure I would have kept reading.
"Emily understood silence, that good silence is something that comes from inside, not outside, and that little, unimportant things can break it more easily than the big ones. --I can be silent, properly silent, Vicki thought--right in the middle of buses and taxi horns and ambulance sirens, so why do I let little things like Suzy dressing entirely in front of the mirror and not letting me have a look in break it up into noise?"
*I just thought of that word. All misty, and uncertain. Mistery.