The Fool's Journey: A Romance by Lynn C. Miller
Review by Diane Wilkes
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The Fool's Journey: A Romance contains two ingredients that I find compelling by themselves: tarot content and Edith Wharton content. In combination, I find them utterly irresistible. Had this book been poorly written, lacking both plot and verbal acuity, I still would have read it and even probably enjoyed it. But since it also possesses both those qualities, I consider this book the find of the year.
It wasn't me who actually found it--Debbie Lake discovered it misfiled in the occult section at the Strand and was gracious enough to apprise me of its existence--but I showed great initiative in terms of the alacrity in which I obtained and read it.
This was not exactly a hardship. Described on the back cover as a "high-spirited tale of sex, betrayal and revelation in academe," The Fool's Journey contains 22 chapters. Most of the readers of this review can intuit the names of said chapters (and they say we're not psychic!). For those who didn't guess the obvious, the book takes the literal form of the Fool's journey, beginning with the Fool and ending with the World.
Each chapter corresponds to the energy of the tarot archetypes, beginning with college professor Fiona Hardison's imprudent--dare I say foolhardy--resignation from Austin University when her application for tenure is rejected. She ends her long-term affair with the head of the Department of Rhetoric and Literature at the same time--an action that seems more of a no-brainer. In the second chapter (The Magician), she seeks--and receives--wise counsel from a tarot reader who many of us will be able to identify with far better than we do Miss Cleo or a neon-signed, storefront huckster. And in the third chapter...well, I don't want to divulge too much (that would be inappropriate for a chapter dedicated to the High Priestess).
But I can tell you that Fiona travels her version of the Fool's journey with the requisite amount of trials and transformation as she moves through the trap-baited world of academia where male dominance still holds sway, according to the author. In the Chariot chapter, she sends out a satire of this world entitled "Ivory Power" to a magazine editor who guarantees to publish it, sight unseen (there's a novel for you!). I found "Ivory Power" to be disappointingly weak and reiterative, but it receives an enormous amount of attention in the novel.
Far more fascinating to me was Fiona's work on Edith Wharton, which Miller generously includes large chunks of throughout the book. I regret that it's not truly available in book-length for me to purchase, as it eloquently describes Wharton as a woman and as a writer of her time. The sections on her friendship with Henry James are, by themselves, enough reason to read this book. I found it ironic in the book that the far weaker "Ivory Power" leads to a promise of publication but not the excellent Edith Wharton material.
Much like Jane Smiley's Moo, The Fool's Journey satirizes the lives of college professors, proffering a picture of sexual and moral peccadillos that make the strait-laced Mr. Chips seem a mythological figure indeed. Sex isn't limited to heterosexual couplings, but includes homosexual and bisexual pairings aplenty.
One or two of the chapters don't seem to correspond with their titled card, but most of them are marvelous meldings of the archetype and story content. One of my favorites is the Hermit chapter, in which Fiona decides to escape from all the chaos going on in her life. Alone, she travels to the Gulf Coast. After isolating herself in a sand dune, she dreams of an imaginary book that contains the answers she has been seeking. It even boasts a picture of Kronos within its folds!
I must admit that Fiona is not particularly sympathetic or fully-drawn, and I didn't have a great deal of concern for her success or failure. Miller's people did not live for me, with the exception of her portrayal of Edith Wharton. Despite that caveat, I recommend this book highly to those who enjoy novels with substantive tarot content, as well as Edith Wharton enthusiasts.
"Shuffle the cards slowly. Meditate on what brought you here, questions you might have. Most of all, take your time. The cards will let you know when they are ready." Daphne arranged herself carefully in a chair opposite Fiona, smoothing her gown and touching the stone at her throat almost like a talisman. She pushed the hair away from her face. Fiona noticed for the first time that her eyes were slightly different from one another, one a tawny yellow with black flecks and the other a darker brown. Both of her pupils seemed unusually large. She waited, detached and yet attentive. Sitting motionless, like a cat, she appeared effortlessly relaxed and yet complete in her focus. Fiona found herself so curious about what the woman could be thinking, she found it difficult to concentrate on herself. On what her friend Miriam called with authority her "inner voices."
"I remind you that the tarot does not tell the future," Daphne said quietly. "Many people make that mistake. No, the cards reveal your deep emotional and psychological reality, but in the present. What is unconscious, deeply buried perhaps, comes to the surface through the cards. That is why putting yourself into a calm, meditative state is helpful. Again, I urge you to take your time."
If you would like to purchase this book, click here.
Excerpt © 2002 Winedale Publishing
Review and page © 2002 Diane Wilkes