I was recently asked to moderate a wonderful panel with three authors and delve into the themes of grief and loss in their books. The books—Kimiko Does Cancer by Kimiko Tobimatsu (graphic novel), Phantompains by Therese Estacion (poetry), and The Centaur’s Wife by Amanda Leduc (fiction)—vary widely in the causes of grief and the losses endured, and each added layers of understanding to my own views of these experiences, including a sense of the joys and gains that can come from loss. Each are beautiful books and I highly recommend them all, but I wanted to share a bit more about The Centaur’s Wife here, since I love a novel that can immerse me in a completely mesmerizing and surprising world.
This book is an intricate story combining an end-of-world scenario, fairytales, and magic. When meteors strike the earth and only a few humans remain, we witness their struggle to survive on a planet that seems intent on making sure they don’t (vines creep over the streets and buildings, the soil refuses to grow food). Interwoven into this central narrative is a series of fairy tales that Leduc created herself, and a connected story involving centaurs who live on a mysterious mountain overlooking the setting. Sound complex? It is. But Leduc deftly combines these complexities into a narrative that builds upon itself until the climactic moments in the novel, unraveling the histories and connections between characters as we read.
The grief and loss in the book are consistent and sometimes relentless—homes, lives, and connections to family are lost—but beneath these losses is a sense of critical dependence on other humans, nature, and magic. The central character, Heather, is navigating the death of her father and the constant pull of the mystical, sentient mountain and its magical inhabitants. Another character, Tasha, feels the push and pull of sadness over her own losses and her need to care for other survivors—to keep moving forward together. There are moments of sheer terror but also moments of intense connection and commitment to others.
If you want to read a book that will make you think and immerse you in a world that is both vastly different from and also a reflection of ours, The Centaur’s Wife is an excellent world to enter.