July 16, 2008

BOOKS: Dark Cities Underground, Lisa Goldstein (1999)

Ruth Berry is working on a biography of children's author E.A. Jones, who always claimed that her books were inspired by stories told to her by her son Jerry. Jerry is reluctant to be interviewed, as he has not been close to his mother, and does not like to talk about her. But when Ruth and Jerry are both approached by the same mysterious, menacing man, they begin to realize that there may be some element of truth in the Jeremy books; perhaps those far-fetched adventures really did happen after all.

Goldstein weaves a wild tale in which most of classic children's literature is, she suggests, about the real world entrances to the Nether World, where the figures of classic Egyptian mythology still battle over the fate of mankind. These days, the Nether World can most easily be gotten to through secret passages built into the world's subway systems.

Ruth and Jerry are immensely likable characters, and Goldstein has created a marvelous fantasy world. The villains are appropriately creepy; the helpful characters are frequently ineffectual ditherers, which only makes them all the more lovable (the Corn Sisters are particularly delightful creations).

Goldstein's inspiration runs short at the very end, and the resolution of the book is just a bit flat compared to what has come before. But for most of its length, Dark Cities Underground is a terrific blend of whimsy and terror, and I enjoyed it greatly.

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