8.21.2012

Review: Auraria, by Tim Westover

Auraria, a novel
by Tim Westover
QW Publishers
March 3, 2012
386 pgs
Tim Westover's Auraria is an original and fantastical semi-allegorical condemnation of capitalism. The novel, new from QW Publishers (this year), champions natural resources and the power of nature while simultaneously mocking the mythology of bourgeois initiative with an inventive plot and setting full of ghosts and larger-than-life creatures, moon maidens and will 'o the wisps. But while the story may be rife with anti-capitalistic feelings (much in the same way that Jaws can be interpreted) it also promotes integrity and ingenuity: the backbone and nervous system of the American dream.

The plot is somewhat reminiscent of both The Great Gatsby and The Bible...if you can imagine. It follows Holtzclaw (a Nick Carraway character) who, employed by a Mr. Shadburn, seeks to buy up the lands of a mystical and illusory Appalachian valley known as Auraria for the purposes of tourism and industry...at least, this is what he believes. In reality, Mr. Shadburn is, in fact, planning an hotel and spa for tourists, but his intention is to bury Auraria, to sink it and all it stands for. (Note: Although this story, with its moon maidens and terrapins, is fictional, it's worth pointing out that Westover based it upon an actual Georgia ghost town).

Holtzclaw is at once guided and distracted by a young girl who calls herself Princess Trahlyta, who seems to be part nymph and part ghost (fun fact: Princess Trahlyta was a Cherokee princess, the legend of whom serves as the false legend that Shadburn and Holtzclaw invent in order to stir up interest in their tourism scheme). Those with any Latin/ romance language/ science background will see what's coming next: Auraria is basically a gold mine. But not just any mine...this gold comes not from the earth, but to it, sloughed off of the bodies of moon maidens who see it as we would see sweat. Their bathing in Auraria's streams over the years has caused there to be the smallest particles of gold in all of Auraria's waters, even the rainwater. And it is this gold that Shadburn both needs and detests. It would be easy to cast Shadburn as the villain, but the gold seems to be both champion and villain of this strange little myth.

The plot itself is a little weak (some characterizations seem forced, and a certain romance is neglected for the better part of it) and the author's use of adjectives is a bit overzealous. But the setting, a secluded place with its own mythology and norms (much in the way of Inkworld or Terabithia or Narnia) is exquisite. It's both an interesting ghost story and an astonishingly visual and cinematic fantasy. In the right hands, a film adaptation (fantasy? horror? it could be both!) could be gorgeous.

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