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The Stolen Child: A Novel Hardcover – May 9, 2006
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|Early Buzz From Amazon.com Top Reviewers|
We queried our top 100 reviewers as of April 6, and asked them to read The Stolen Child and share their thoughts. We've included these early reviews below in the order they were received. For the sake of space, we've only included a brief excerpt of each reviewer's response, but each review is available for reading in its entirety by clicking the "Read the review" link. Enjoy!
Harriet Klausner: "Keith Donohue writes a great novel that will have readers debating the impact of nurturing and naturing as both Henrys adapt and adjust, but never feel whole. This is a fantastic fantasy that readers will enjoy immensely." Read Harriet Klausner's review
W. Boudville: "An updated and realistic Peter Pan. Keith Donohue has produced an exquisite first novel. Exceedingly polished prose with a compelling and original twist on a classic theme." Read W. Boudville's review
John Kwok: "Inspired by the W. B. Yeats poem "The Stolen Child", Keith Donohue's novel of the same title is a fine addition to the fantasy literature genre, yet told with the ample realism one expects from great works of mainstream literature." Read John Kwok's review
A. Joseph Haschka: "The Stolen Child is a fairy tale for adults that transcends standard fare. An ingeniously crafted tale about hobgoblins, is a coming of age story and one about identities both lost and found." Read A. Joseph Haschka's review
Robert Morris: "Donohue brilliantly explores all manner of themes, many of which are found in the most popular fairy tales and nursery rhymes (e.g. fear of separation from ones family, especially from parents). " Read Robert Morris's review
Donald Mitchell: "What would it like to be adopted and have your head full of fantasies? It might feel very much like this story. However, I think a story about an adopted child without the parallel changeling world would have been more interesting. Perhaps I lack a sense of romance and sympathy for the strivings of the dispossessed. If so, the fault is mine, not that of the story." Read Donald Mitchell's review
Joanna Daneman: "I found the writing stunningly simple and gripping. Within minutes, I was completely drawn into this book. I am a very finicky fiction reader, and I was delighted by Donohue's incredibly ability to make sensory experiences real, to make conversations flow naturally and logically--yet leading to surprise after surprise." Read Joanna Daneman's review
Charles Ashbacher: "The book moves back and forth between the two Henry's, how the substitute Henry handles his assimilation into human society and how the original adapts to the society that kidnapped him. It is an interesting story, as both "boys" have different perspectives on the life of a "growing" boy." Read Charles Ashbacher's review
Lawyeraau: "This haunting and beautifully written debut novel had me compulsively turning its pages. I simply could not put it down! The author has created a fantasy world that exists on the cusp of the consciousness of humans. It is a world that is the stuff of fairy tales, only the author has turned it into one that is fitting for adults." Read Lawyeraau's review
Gail Cooke: "It has been called magical, beguiling, remarkable, and vividly imagined. The Stolen Child is all of that, and much more. Keith Donohue's debut novel is an intriguing mix of imagination and reality, a story that reminds us of the joys of being human and the transcendency of love." Read Gail Cooke's review
Grady Harp: "Longing to belong is but one of the essential facts of life that author Keith Donohoe weaves into his debut novel, The Stolen Child, a stunning work of fiction that brings alive an ages old myth involving faeries, hobgoblins, changelings and magical transformations to confront contemporary readers with food for thought about being careful of what you wish for!" Read Grady Harp's review
Lee Carlson: "The story is as much a celebration of memory as it is in belaboring its mysteries. Every character acts in concert to remind the reader of the subtlety of memory along with its power." Read Lee Carlson's review
Daniel Jolley: "Keith Donohue has brought forth a magical debut novel full of insights into childhood and adulthood and the seemingly endless longing that largely defines both. He conjures a world of ancient legend and places it on the outskirts of modern civilization, thereby casting an insightful eye upon both." Read Daniel Jolley's review
My dad used to call me, the middle child of seven, "the youngest of the oldest, and the oldest of the youngest." Being dead smack in the middle of a large Irish American family, it is no wonder that I have felt like a changeling myself now and again. We were just like the Kennedys, without the money or the power.
We lived in a cramped yellow house at the bottom of a steep hill in Pittsburgh. Climbing that street as a small child was like hiking up a mountain, but it instilled a sense of ambition and determination. In the mid-Sixties, we moved to Southern Maryland, to a town so small that there was but a single commercial crossroads with a High's Dairy Store across from Ben Franklin's Five and Dime Store. There were still enough woods and swampland available to allow for hours of exploration and getting lost nearly every day.
On a whim, I went back to Pittsburgh for college and began to write in earnest at Duquesne University, studying under the Pennsylvania state laureate poet Sam Hazo, and putting myself through school through two creative writing scholarships. My dream was to be a novelist, but there weren't any openings.
Upon graduation, and being unable to find a job in the city, I moved back to the Washington area to work for the National Endowment for the Arts, answering the mail for the chairman of the agency. Within four years, I was writing speeches for a new and different chairman, a job I held for the eight years that coincided with what some have called the culture wars. I wrote for the freedom of expression crowd.
Off hours, I went back to school, earned a doctorate in English literature, specializing in modern Irish literature. After stints working on federal child care policy and as a cultural policy analyst, I circled round again to that steep hill and wrote The Stolen Child, figuring that if I was to become that novelist, the time had come to stop dreaming and simply climb.
I'm married, have four children, and am back working at a small embattled agency that gives grants to archives across the country to preserve and publish the records of the American experience. In my spare time, I'm writing another novel about myths in America.
The very first image that came to me when I began The Stolen Child was of a young boy hiding in a hollow tree, face pressed against its wooden ribs, determined not to be found by anyone. His defiant wish to be alone struck me as a universal gesture--a striking out for independence that children make when frustrated by the confines of childhood. When the changelings come and get that boy, he becomes a victim of his own imagination. He is stolen away by his own worst nightmare.
As concerned as I was about the boy hiding in the tree, I also knew that I wanted to write about an adult struggling to remember the dreams of childhood. He had to be as trapped and frustrated by the strictures of his adulthood. And in order for any drama to exist, these two emotional states must clash.
That's why there are two narrators telling two intertwined stories--one adult trying to remember his "stolen" childhood and one child trapped in time at age seven. Since the conflict is primarily between the grown-up Henry Day and the child Aniday, the story needed some way to make both characters alive, have parallel and mirroring lives, joys and challenges, and allow them to confront one another. I needed some way to make the metaphorical be literal.
That's where the changeling folk myth came in. Changelings and faeries have been around for eons in virtually every culture. They are the mysterious beings flitting around the corner of the imagination, and in many places, faeries and changelings have the reputation of breaking into homes and replacing babies and young children with replicas. Or luring children away from their homes to come live in the wild and become part of their unaging magical tribe. The child is stolen by the faeries, and the faery changeling "becomes" the child.
In reality, the legend grew from real human predicaments dealing primarily with the inability of some parents to care for children with a failure to thrive. They explained away the unwanted children by claiming that they were not human at all, that the changelings had come and stolen their child and left one of their own in its place. Having a changeling rather than a real human made it much easier for parents to get rid of such a child.
Through our wild imaginations and fear of the dark and unknown, the changeling myth evolved into a spooky story. Careful, kid, or the changelings will come get you. Or, conversely, as an explanation for why you're so different from all the rest of the kids; you're actually a changeling.
"The Stolen Child" by William Butler Yeats, is one of the more well-known literary uses of folk legend to comment on the real world. Reading the poem, we get caught up in those wonderful images of "hidden faery vats" and the faeries "whispering to the slumbering trout," but then Yeats gives us, in the final stanza, an idea of the family life that the stolen child is leaving behind. But away he goes, "from a world more full of weeping than he can understand."
How perfect for a story about what it's like to be seven and to remember being seven.
So I asked myself: What if we make the changelings real? What if we have the boy out in the woods with a band of faeries, the flip side of the real world? What if he is replaced by a changeling who can grow up and become the adult, who fools everyone into thinking that he is indeed the real Henry Day, when he knows all along that the authentic Henry is out there in the woods?
That's when the fun began. The two narrators' stories spiraling around and interlocking like a Celtic knot. The changeling who steals Henry Day's life gradually realizes that he, too, was a real human boy once upon a time. He, too, was a stolen child and must struggle to dredge up that childhood and deal with his dreams and his own weeping world. The real Henry Day--now known as Aniday among the faeries--faces what it means to be a part of a fading folk myth at the latter half of the 20th century, and the struggle that all children have coming to terms with their mortality, leaving family behind, and leaving childhood behind in order to find some speck of love, happiness, and the road ahead.
From Publishers Weekly
Folk legends of the changeling serve as a touchstone for Donohue's haunting debut, set vaguely in the American northeast, about the maturation of a young man troubled by questions of identity. At age seven, Henry Day is kidnapped by hobgoblins and replaced by a look-alike impostor. In alternating chapters, each Henry relates the tale of how he adjusts to his new situation. Human Henry learns to run with his hobgoblin pack, who never age but rarely seem more fey than a gang of runaway teens. Hobgoblin Henry develops his uncanny talent for mimicry into a music career and settles into an otherwise unremarkable human life. Neither Henry feels entirely comfortable with his existence, and the pathos of their losses influences all of their relationships and experiences. Inevitably, their struggles to retrieve their increasingly forgotten pasts put them on paths that intersect decades later. Donohue keeps the fantasy as understated as the emotions of his characters, while they work through their respective growing pains. The result is an impressive novel of outsiders whose feelings of alienation are more natural than supernatural. (May)
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It's the late 1940s in a rural setting, seven year-old Henry Day, alone in the woods near his home, is abducted by a band of a dozen hobgoblins, which, in mythology, are faeries "gone bad". By the story's definition, each hobgoblin was once human before being kidnapped while still young and, by some subtle process, turned into a creature that never ages, even over hundreds of years. At some point, determined by seniority within the group, a hobgoblin, or "changeling", can return to the society of humans by co-opting the identity of a kidnapped child. Once returned to the "upper world", the hobgoblin takes up the aging process where he/she left off. In this case, Henry, now "Aniday", languishes in the purgatory of eternal childhood while his replacement matures to fully actualized adulthood as "Henry Day". Aniday's tragedy comprises an identity and life's potential lost, while Henry's is that his new identity vies with that of his previous human existence, began in 1851, which Day subliminally remembers and eventually obsesses over.
The novel's thirty-six chapters alternate between Aniday and Henry, each telling his first-person story as it extends over three decades, the history of each touching at points with the other until a final confrontation, such as it is.
This is Keith Donohue's first novel, and I'm awarding five stars for cleverness, though it does have problems which would compel me to grant only four if coming from a more accomplished author. The story concludes in a way that was, for me, very unfulfilling; I thought it lacked closure for both characters. Also, the hobgoblins, who were all once human and can become so again anytime they chose, now live a wretched, unhygienic, near-starvation existence continually exposed to the elements and possible injury while subsisting only with the help of food, garb, and utensils scavenged or stolen from humans. (Indeed, the mischievous hobgoblin will steal one sock from a clothesline to create "the mystery of the missing sock from every washday".) That being the case, the author, while removing for the reader much of the magic, mystery and whimsicality of the faeries' existence, supplies no compelling imperative for them to remain the creatures they are. Indeed, they exist at all because human society once believed in their reality, and they now approach extinction because the twentieth century's technological enlightenment leaves them no room.
THE STOLEN CHILD is a fairy tale for adults that transcends standard fare.
On face value, Donohue could just be exercising his whimsical side by revitalizing a well-known fairytale ala Gregory Maguire in "Mirror, Mirror," or "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister." If this is the case, he does this well, beginning his tale in the 1950s when a small child is kidnapped by a band of hobgoblins and replaced by a changeling who has waited for over a hundred years to leave the Peter Pan Never Never Land world of the fey to reclaim his former humanity in the smaller universe of a real family. Using the technique of alternating narrations, Donohue allows Anyday, the stolen child, and Henry Day, the changeling, to tell the story from both perspectives. As Anyday struggles with his forever child fate, bemoans the loss of his family and learns the ways of the wild, Henry is torn between successfully impersonating the boy he has replaced and remembering the child he once was long ago when he had been abducted a century earlier. With a deft assuredness, Donohue writes prose that moves the story along interjecting fantasy with reality while still maintaining a real feel.
Whatever his intention, along the way he uncovers issues that have little to do with the realm of the fantastic and much to do with living in general. As Anyday becomes increasingly fey, he grapples with his loss of memory and recalling one of the last skills learned as a human child, writes down his story to assuage his unhappiness and remember his one time identity. In almost the same way, the changeling evokes a talent from a previous childhood almost forgotten; he plays piano like a young Mozart. As he strives to forget the wild, he uses his artistry to assimilate into the conformity of life as a human. As he transitions, Henry Day regains his sense of compassion and through his music begs forgiveness from the person whose life he stole. Likewise, Anyday relishes his sense of freedom and forever childishness and literally runs away from something he can never have and really doesn't need.
On another level, Donohue allows the reader a glimpse at the human psyche, yet he doesn't compromise his story with an overabundance of metaphors and symbols. No underlying hackneyed meanings or moralistic message cancel out the magic that Donohue so effortlessly infuses within his work. Donohue could be commenting on the mediocrity of the middleclass lifestyle; Henry Day and Anyday may represent two sides of the same persona, simultaneously desiring the conformity necessary to make it in the everyday world and yet coveting the freedom of never having to grow up while living without rules in the wild.
Bottom line: "The Stolen Child" represents superlative reading. The mythical quality of the prose sends the reader into the realm of fantasy while the intense emotional confessions of each character resonate with a poignancy classic in its perfection. Highly, highly recommended.
Diana Faillace Von Behren
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