readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Review: Passing Strange

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Passing Strange
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was delighted to find that this book is a return to the magic-infused San Francisco of Klages’ story “Caligo Lane,” which I loved.

In the present day, an elderly woman, setting her affairs in order as she knows her life is reaching its end, goes to sell a valuable painting to a collector. It’s a ‘lost work’ by a pulp fiction illustrator, legendary among a certain niche market – although the subject matter is a bit unusual for the genre. But there are hints that there is something not quite on the up-and-up about this sale.

The action flashes back to the 1940’s, where we meet the artist, Haskell – who turns out to have been a lesbian: not the easiest thing in pre-War San Fran, although there’s a lively demimonde of women who are “in the life,” whose social scene centers around the Chinatown club called Mona’s. We also meet Haskell’s group of friends, one of whom, we realize, is the elderly woman who owned the painting. The tale of how that painting came to be hidden in her possession for so many years is revealed, and it’s a story of violence, desperation… and love.

I liked the story very much. My only complaint is that it falls prey to that pitfall of many well-researched pieces of fiction: it’s got a ton of details that don’t really flow with the narrative, but are more like, “I’m sticking this in because I found out this tidbit of information about what it was like to be a lesbian in 1940’s San Francisco and isn’t it fascinating!?” Well, yes, it is… but sometimes it didn’t feel as seamlessly woven in as it could have.

Many thanks to Tor and NetGalley for the opportunity to read. As always, my opinions are unrelated to the source of the book.

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