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CARPE LIBRUM: Gwenyfar goes romance with a two-sided love story

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Wilmington’s literary community keeps gaining accolades (two National Book Awards nominees in 2015) and attention in the press. With multiple established publishers in the state (Algonquin, Blair) and new smaller presses gaining traction (Lookout, Eno, Bull City), and a pair of well-regarded literary magazines out of UNCW, it is timely to shine a light on discussions around literary publishing. More so, it shows the importance of communicating a truthful story in our present world.

Welcome to Carpe Librum, encore’s biweekly book column, wherein I will dissect a current title and an old book—because literature does not exist in a vacuum but emerges to participate in a larger, cultural conversation. I will feature many NC writers; however, the hope is to place the discussion in a larger context and therefore examine works around the world.

The Thorn and the Blossom: A Two-Sided Love Story
By Theodora Goss
Quirk Books, 2012

I got turned onto Theodora Goss through “The Strange Case of The Alchemist’s Daughter,” which one friend succinctly (and accurately) summed up as “the league of extraordinary gentlemen with women.” I love the series—the concept, the plots, the execution, and especially the running commentary by the other characters as a kibitzing conversation in the margins of the manuscript. In short, I was besotted.

Consequently, we ordered as many of her books as were currently available in print for the bookstore. One of the gems in the box was a beautiful book titled “The Thorn and The Blossom.” Now, when I say beautiful, I do mean the story is beautiful. Also, the presentation of the book makes it a treasure! Quirk Books—a boutique publisher built on the success of the “Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook” series and possibly most famous for Ransom Riggs’ “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” series—published this lovely volume.

Subtitled “A Two Sided Love Story,” the entire book unfolds as an accordion fanfold, so one side is from Evelyn’s point of view and the other is from Brendan’s. We can read either first, then have the story begin again. Or, like me, you can read them by flipping back and forth between the two. As far as communicating physically, the power of perception in storytelling, this is a wonderful artifact. To be honest, we currently have it on display at the Literary Bed and Breakfast because it is the perfect decor for Valentine’s Day and for spring: a blend of love, flowers, nature and rebirth, all in one ornate little volume.

Now, I might be biased because this love story starts with Evelyn walking into the bookstore that Brendan runs. How much better of a setup is needed than that? How much more romantic, magical and wonderful a setting is there than a bookstore? See? I am not biased in the least, just observant of the obvious good choices that Goss made in her exposition. Rather than capitulating to my bias, the answer might be Goss writes a captivating tale of love and loss,  struggle and redemption. 

Brendan and Evelyn both are drawn,  in different ways and for different reasons, to the myths/folktales of the area where Brendan grew up. Somehow, their story mirrors or is entangled with those tales—and it terrifies Evelyn. It will take them years (maybe it has taken lifetimes?) to sort this out. Is it a love triangle? Is it karma? Is it magic or destiny? Maybe a bit of all that and more … it is filled with passion, longing, desire and a love that transcends much of the physical word.

I fully admit I am primed to like this book, I mean, it is built with materials that are part of my worldview: bookstores, the power of story, the importance of folktales, nature mythic archetypes, and an epic love that transcends time and space. I really think a big selling piece is the beautiful way Goss puts together the story and her choice to use two viewpoints to tell it.

Goss is one of my current favorite writers. She is imaginative, creative and innovative, and the way she presents the page makes Marshal McLuhan’s observation “the medium is the message” come alive. Though Mark Z. Danielewski (“House of Leaves”) does a terrific job with for his use of layout, including color, type face and page position, I think Goss’s choices are more subtle, and maybe because of that, more effective and substantial.   

None of Goss’ books have disappointed. “The Thorn and the Blossom” is one that can be given as a gift to a lover, an aspiring writer or as a gift to yourself. It is possibly one of the most lovely book items I could own: not just a beautiful story, but a gorgeous marriage of form and function that enhances the message in every way, while paying homage to the power of story in our lives. Buy as many copies as you can, you will not be sorry you did.

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