The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In the style of Dylan Thomas, Marguerite Young utilizes dark, brooding characters and situations that are traditional in gothic literary forms. Catherine, the frail sleeping beauty, lies in her mansion by the fog-shrouded sea and calls for her coachman, who appears to her in the form of a skeleton. Such scenes are the mainstays of this lengthy novel. From Cousin Hannah, the mountain-climbing suffragette who dies leaving behind forty trunks, each containing a wedding dress, to Mr. Spitzer, who hears symphonies of unearthly music in his head, each of Young’s characters is a visionary inhabiting the night world of dreamers rather than the daytime world of pursuit and accomplishment. Young delves into the psyche of her characters, testing their nature and making them more complete in their fragmentation than if they were whole. They are all failures, reveling in confusion and profound chaos; all the while, their search for realities that do not fail them feeds their bizarre existence.

A menage of opium-inspired subcharacters runs the gamut from the mischievously funny to the vivid and haunting. Dead stars of silent films, an Egyptian prince, old kings and queens, New England spinsters, dead horses, and Mr. Res Tacamah, a drug bottle with ears, are all nightly visitors to Catherine Cartwheel’s bedroom. Young’s colorful characters, though steeped in symbolism, are homogenous. The common thread that binds them is that they are cohorts in attempting to attain their aspirations amid the consuming effects of reality.

Young’s work features many of the classic elements of the fable as a narrative form. Supernatural occurrences in the form of animals or inanimate objects behaving or speaking as human beings enable the author to weave into the story a moral lesson.