Stephen Fair

by Tim Wynne-Jones,
192 pages,
ISBN: 0888992955

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Children`s Books
by Jeffrey Canton

A new book by Tim Wynne-Jones is always something to celebrate and Stephen Fair is no exception. It's a compellingly readable novel that sensitively explores contemporary family life and the ties that bind us to one another.

Fifteen-year-old Stephen Fair's dreams have become plagued by a series of nightmares. What do these dreams mean? Where is this treehouse that he keeps trying to reach? What kind of threat does this raging fire pose? Who is this crying baby?

What makes Stephen's nightmares all the more unsettling is that he is well aware that he's inherited them. His older brother, Marcus, had almost identical dreams, which became so terrifying that Marcus ended up running away from home four years ago. Stephen had listened to Marcus's nightmares, chronicling them each night in a notebook he called Dreamcatcher. Now he's re-living Marcus's dreams himself.

Stephen's mother, Brenda, is almost beside herself with anxiety. When Marcus was nightmare-ridden, she'd invoked all the "pokers and prodders" she could find to help him, and she's ready to try anything to help Stephen-even kinesiology. But Stephen is thoroughly skeptical and is sure that the answers lie deeply embedded in his dreams. Part of the problem, Stephen is positive, is Brenda herself, who just won't leave him be. Her smothering mothering is almost more than he can bear.

As Stephen tries to come to terms with his haunted dreams, he invokes the aid of his buddy Dom and of Virginia Elizabeth Dulcima Skye, budding film-maker and sometime love interest. Virginia, who seems so together and sure of herself artistically, has problems of her own; her parents' marriage seems to be breaking down and Virginia is caught in the middle.

Wynne-Jones has filled up this novel to the brim with as many themes and dilemmas as Noah filled the Ark with (Stephen's home is, in fact, called the Ark-built by his father, who has since abandoned the family). Certainly parents and parenting are at the heart of what makes Stephen Fair such a good novel; Stephen and Dom even create an oath of fatherlessness for their gang, The Usual Suspects. More successfully than Brenda, Wynne-Jones insightfully pokes and prods into the relationships between parents and children (Brenda and Stephen and his sister Toni and Virginia and her parents Marlo and Lehmann are the centrepieces around which Wynne-Jones builds family structure) with sometimes quite surprising conclusions.

In spite of the nightmares that haunt Stephen, and the novel, Stephen Fair isn't entirely a dark and brooding book; rather, it's a paean to the imagination and a celebration of the creative spirit. It's a book filled with creative and imaginative activity: writing, film-making, acting, cooking, editing, building. Parents here create and kids create, sometimes alone, sometimes together, but always with laughter and a lust for finding new ways to communicate. And Wynne-Jones's buoyant prose style is certainly a manifestation of that creative spirit at its finest.

Ultimately, Stephen Fair is a novel that is overflowing with love. Is it intentional that Stephen Fair is as full of love as Wynne-Jones's last novel, The Maestro, was full of hunger for even the smallest scrap of affection? Is too much love too much of a good thing? You'll have to read Stephen Fair and decide for yourself. 

Jeffrey Canton is the National Executive Director of The Word On The Street Canada as well as a freelance writer and reviewer. He contributes a regular column to the electronic journal The Looking Glass.


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