Review: The Tea House by Paul Elwork
Monday, June 16, 2008
The Tea House by Paul Elwork
Paul Elwork's "The Tea House" is a bold first novel, entering the strange, secretive world of two children who discover a way to convince others they can contact the dead. The book's based loosely on the real-life Fox sisters, notorious mediums who seem to have begun the whole table-rapping craze. It sets out how siblings Emily and Michael get more and more involved in the private griefs of the adults around them. Rapidly, the two move far out of their depth, struggling with adults who depend on them for emotional support, desperately wanting to believe what they know isn't true. What starts as a fun game leads to despair and death.
Although Emily is the table-rapper, it's Michael who manipulates her and all those around them, cajoling then bullying her into co-operating. We see scenes from Michael's point of view, but his motivations remain obscure. He's almost fierce in not caring for other people. It's power over them he seeks, regardless of the emotional cost.
Unfortunately, this novel has been pruned within an inch of its life. In his author's note, Elwork remarks that he's boiled the novel down to its essence. What's essence to the author--who knows everything that's not in there as well as what is--may be only highlights for the reader. The book skips along, somewhat episodically, and the feeling persists that there's a lot left unsaid. This sense of jaggedness, of disconnection, isn't helped by the frequent changes of point of view. Reading The Tea House is a bit like dipping into a longer novel at infrequent intervals.
We can hope for even better things from this author once he hits his stride.
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