The Wild Swans
In this long fantasy novel, two stories are told in one. The first, taking place in 1689, is a retelling of the fairy tale about a young girl whose eleven brothers, cursed by their stepmother, must spend their daylight hours as swans. The second, far more grounded in reality, includes only a hint that magic is real. In Manhattan in 1981, a young gay teenager, banished from home, luckily meets someone who saves him from a life on the streets. But it is also the time of AIDS, the plague that caused the death of many homosexual men before they knew what was happening. Another curse, and of course this one’s never been lifted. Meanwhile Eliza, in alternating chapters, must work in desperate silence, weaving jackets from stinging nettles to save her brothers.
Both stories are extremely sad and depressing, and yet wonderfully evocative of the joy of life. Kerr falters only at the end, when the parallels between the tales seem to slip away. Silence is required for Eliza to save her brothers, for example, but in the AIDS half of the tale, silence — failure to speak up about an unspeakable disease — means death. The metaphor is disturbingly unclear.