Lily / Michael Thomas Ford
Saturday, December 10, 2016 at 02:45PM
Dark Scribe Magazine

Lethe Press / October 2016
Reviewed by: Vince A. Liaguno

The thirteen-year-old titular character of Michael Thomas Ford’s bewitching new novel has a gift: She can foresee a person’s death by merely touching them. She learns of this strange and terrifying new power on the eve of her own father’s drowning death, which sets into motion a coming-of-age odyssey of self-discovery that takes her from her home in an idyllic fishing village across a mysterious fog-shrouded bridge to the outside world.  Betrayed by her mother, Lily soon finds herself in the company of Reverend Silas Everyman, a charismatic evangelical preacher and charlatan “miracle worker” who quickly realizes the cash potential of her extraordinary power and puts her to work in his circus-like traveling tent revival. As Lily learns the painful truth about the hypocrisy of adults and struggles to find her way back home – and rid herself of her tactile premonitions of death – she encounters a colorful cast of characters, including the ancient witch Baba Yaga from Russian folklore.

Ford has essentially crafted a darkly atmospheric adult fairy tale with Lily, imbuing his teenage protagonist’s fantastical adventure with just enough storybook cliché to keep the proceedings familiar while nimbly creating an entire universe that’s equal parts whimsical and terrifying. Although the novel presents an obvious allegory to puberty – with Lily’s prophetic power emerging just as her body blossoms into womanhood – Ford adroitly balances the narrative simplicity on the surface of Lily with a far subtler thematic complexity within its core. There’s an ambitious deeper layer to the novel that includes a sly and biting commentary on organized religion, a nod to feminism and feminist heroines, an exploration of coming of age during the early years of the AIDS plague, and keen observations on the nature of grief and redemption through self-love. In the hands of a lesser writer, these myriad ideas might jumble up in a thematic traffic jam; fortunately, Ford is a master storyteller whose economical prose enables him to explore these weightier themes with bullseye precision.

The magically haunting world of Lily is augmented by artist Staven Andersen’s stunningly macabre illustrations, which perfectly complement – but never overpower – the lyrical tale Ford tells. Lily will likely conjure mental images of the ghoulish flamboyance of Bryan Fuller’s quirky Pushing Daisies coupled with the imaginative intertextuality of the literary works of Neil Gaiman. It’s a magical, haunting fable told through the eyes of an engaging, resourceful young heroine who trades in hopelessness for hope, self-contempt for self-acceptance, along a fantastical road decidedly less traveled.

Purchase Lily by Michael Thomas Ford in hardcover or paperback.

Read a recent interview with Michael Thomas Ford at Lambda Literary here.

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