Summary: Larque Harootunian is having a mid-life crisis. But Larque, wife, mother and painter isn’t like most 40-year-olds. All her life she’s been generating “doppelgangers,” psychic manifestations of her thoughts that can impact and, as she suddenly realizes, impede, the reality of her own life. She embarks on a journey of self-exploration that culminates in her transformation–a common occurrence in this world–into an attractive gay man. In the end, she must weigh the attractions of this existence against the good aspects of her actual life. A 1995 James Tiptree Award winner.
Thoughts: Larque on the Wing is a book more notable for the thoughts it provokes in the reader than the story it actually tells. To say that it’s a story about a middle-aged woman coming to grips with different aspects or herself and eventually stands up to her mother, or that it’s about people who can physically affect the world by drawing out and making physical the more hidden and personal sides of people… Well, these descriptions are true, and I can’t deny that, but the best parts are the random observations, the things between the lines that make you pause and bring deeper thoughts to the surface of your mind and make you really wonder about yourself and others. It’s a a very personal tale, one that will read a little bit differently for everyone, I suspect, and that’s what makes it so good. The story itself wasn’t as good as what it made me think about.
Larque is, at the beginning of the book, a fairly typical middle-aged woman. Married to a good but not the most enlightened man. Raised and raising kids. Paints for a living, but only stuff that will sell, bland stuff that goes well with unoriginal interior decorating schemes. It pays the bills, but it’s not the greatest outlet for creative urges. The biggest thing that sets her apart from others is her ability to create doppelgangers, manifestations of aspects or herself or others. It’s random, and largely situational, and a temporary thing, the doppelgangers fading after time or just going away. That is, until Sky appears, a copy of Larque from when she was a child, wild and brash and full of dreams. Sky won’t just fade. Sky runs roughshod over Larque’s life, and is the catalyst for a journey of self-discovery that changes not only Larque but the people closest to her.
Larque on the Wing has a great exploration of gender throughout is pages, after Larque meets Shadow, a man who can reshape people to cause an outward manifestation of internal desires and traits. I think anyone who has struggled with gender or body issues will read this and yearn to meet someone like Shadow, someone who can reshape their outsides to match their insides. The qualities inside Larque that she most wanted expressed, the things she wished herself to be more of or less of, culminated in her changing to a rather handsome young man, much to the annoyance of her husband and children. Larque, on the other hand, has a blast, experiencing her new sense of self, how the world treats her differently, the ups and downs to being either male or female. It’s interesting because no matter the sex of the body that Larque (or Lark, as she called herself when presenting as male) was inhabiting, she was always very much herself. The sex of the body didn’t matter. Being male didn’t make her attracted to women, so she seemed very much like a gay man, the whole while still being very definitely Larque.
It’s this sort of thing that I’m refering to when I say the book makes you stop and think about things, about gender and sexuality and presentation and the very essence of self and the disconnect between mind and body. You can’t read Larque on the Wing without being very aware of all of these things and how they play off each other. It’s all connected, and there’s no way that’s better than all the others; they all come with tradeoffs and downsides. Considering that this book was originally written around 2 decades ago, I have to say that this kind of exploration of social norms when it comes to gender and sexuality is impressive. The 90s weren’t times particularly associated with repression, but neither were they exactly associated with the kind of reflection in this book, the kind that you’re far more likely to see in conversations today than then.
But aside from the exploration of gender is the exploration of the very self, the divides that we give ourselves to keep our desires separate from our mundane lives, the way we comparmentalize and suppress but some things never truly go away. Sky is the embodiment of Larque’s childhood, the dreams of years past that never get fulfilled because we grow up and realise that we have to put aside old yearnings in favour of a steady paycheque and more comfortable living. So many characters have the ability to reshape people in accordance with desire. Shadow, as I mentioned, can change a person’s body to bring out physicaly manifestations of inner traits. Larque’s mother can “blink,” which is reshaping others in accordance with her own will, forcibly removing and changing anything that doesn’t fit with what she wants to see. Got an unruly child who won’t listen? Just blink and turn them into a perfect sweetheart, obedient and kind and soft-spoken. Oftentimes she doesn’t even see the things that don’t fit into her idealized worldview. Most of us, at one time or another, have experienced a less literal version of this, a family member or coworker who refuses to acknowledge a certain aspect of us because they find it awkward or don’t agree with it. Imagine if they had the power to just blink that away, affect who you were to remove that aspect of you they don’t like, even if it involves you suffering for it, or even creating an entirely new and separate version of you because they like it better.
This is a very mundane story with extraordinary elements. The final showdown involves Larque accepting the different parts of her own personality and being happier for it, and standing up to the emotionally neglectful mother who refused to accept anything but perfection. As a story, the mundanity of it wasn’t actually that interesting to me. I was far more interested in those extraordinary elements, and the perspectives they offered and the thoughts they provoked. But you can’t have one without the other in this book; it’s all part of the same package, and there’s definitely a place for stories of personal acceptance. The interpersonal relationships may not have appealed to me personally, but the rest of the book definitely did, and I took away a few lessons that were good ones to learn.
I’m not sure if Larque on the Wing is a book with much reread value. The odd combination of “I love this” and “I can take it or leave it” means that the story is simple enough to not really need a reread to get something else out of, even while I enjoyed reading it. But it’s definitely a book that emcourages discussion and brings to light issues faced by many, giving a voice to certain aspects of life that many people prefer to leave in the dark still, and it shows the damage done by those who do want to ignore the truth of a person because it’s inconvenient for them to accept. It’s definitely worth reading once, though, and I’m glad I did so. I can see why this won the Tiptree award, and I think it would be a shame for this book to go overlooked just because it’s an older one. Many thanks to Open Road Media for shining the spotlight, once again, on older books that are still well worth paying attention to, that stand the test of time, and bring forward new accessible perspectives on touchy issues.
(Received for review from the publisher.)