The Woman Who Lives in the Earth: A Novel by Swain Wolfe. Recommended.
Originally self-published, The Woman Who Lives in the Earth is the type of work that likely would not have been published otherwise, as it is odd and lacks in popular or market appeal. The setting is a drought-stricken world (pre- or post-Apocalyptic Earth?) inhabited by people whose minds have dried up and cracked along with the land on which they live. The smaller the collective mind of Henrytown, the longer the drought lasts.
Outside the town, uninfluenced but not untouched by its poisons, live a farm family: Aesa, Ada, and their daughter Sarah, soon joined by great-grandmother Lilly, ironically driven from her own home elsewhere by flooding. Even as their well is dying, they hold out hope that the world will right itself and that balance will be restored.
The town is represented by the hairless Lizard Woman, whose McCarthyesque role is to seek evil and explanation in others. She is assisted in her pursuit by Kreel (authority), Greyling Eyes (terror), and Henkel (documentation). To these shriveled people, it must be the different that is causing the drought — the girl, Sarah, who saves a fox from the cruelty of the town children (appearing to bring it back to life, surely an act of evil!).
Sarah, who has been endowed with intelligence, imagination, and sensitivity by her great-grandmother Lilly, becomes the focus of fear for the townspeople and, unknown to them, their source of hope. She meets what appears to be a fox, Marishan Borisan, whose questions and riddles guide Sarah toward insight about the self and who enables her to experience the existence of other things — and gain empathy with them. The fox prepares her for her role. When Lizard Woman and the Triumvirate overhear Sarah describing the fox’s riddle about an egg to Lilly, they hear it as something completely different:
One part was fed with a spoon
One part was filled with fear
And the last was blind and . . . had . . . no . . . mind.
The Woman Who Lives in the Earth is a fable of those who reach out in fear and those who look within and then reach out in curiosity and hope. Without the latter, the former would dry and die or immolate themselves. Although Sarah is a child, this is not a children’s story; the consequences for those who come to deny her as evil and to accept her for the child she is are quick, harsh, and irrevocable. The Woman Who Lives in the Earth is a mystical, magical illustration of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous inaugural quotation, “. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” for “the weaver who lives in my soul weaves a story that is hidden beneath all your thoughts and dreams.” This is an alien tale whose fantastic elements may in time seem all too real.
3 January 2004
Copyright © Diane L. Schirf