written by Marilyn Krysl
It’s inspiring, and challenging, when a new artist appears who possesses a certain originality that seems unusually unique, and yet stays within the parameter of admirable writing.
Theresa Crater hails from Winston Salem, North Carolina, where she came of age during the turbulent years of the civil rights movement, and I wonder if her experience of having to negotiate constantly changing and challenging terrain may have had something to do with her unusual novel The Star Family, a mystery.
Her novel begins in what we think of as the real world. The characters and the setting are rendered realistically, and the action begins to move the story forward in ways that are familiar. But Crater soon reveals that there are more layers to this fictional world than we at first imagined. She grounds us in what we imagine is the real, everyday world to get the storyline moving, then reveals that below this storyline and its plot lies another world of mysterious and tantalizing surrealism.
Her protagonist inherits a dead relative’s Gothic mansion, then discovers that this relative was enmeshed in a long, ongoing secret tradition carried forward by a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed annually to keep the earth in balance.
As the novel unfolds, Crater continues to both render what we recognize as ordinary reality and also to weave into this warp the weft of the magical and the power of ritual. And part of this ritual requires live music sung by participants correctly and at the crucial time. What’s remarkable is that she manages to render reality as we know it, then turns this so called reality on its head. It’s a bit like watching the familiar laundry turn over and over in the washing machine, while at the same time an angel circles the ceiling, reading William Blake aloud.
Crater’s protagonist Jane inherits a dying mentor’s property, and so becomes involved with a secret spiritual group whose erotic and musical rites just may override the modern world’s threatening and murderous forces, surpass ordinary reality, and, perhaps, save future generations from the dominion of darkness.
Though Crater’s prose delivers the everyday world we live in, there’s also the parallel world of magic realism operating here in the language, imagery and the story’s startling, unexpected, and unlikely events. In Crater’s gifted hands we’re convinced these two worlds can co-exist and in fact do co-exist now.
The mundane is the expected, and we rely on it to deliver a measure of safety and ease. But the mundane can also induce a lethargy that keeps us from noticing hidden miracles around us, miracles that we might discount as being too fantastic to be believable, except that Crater continues to deliver one unlikely turn of events after another.
It’s important to stress that Crater’s oeuvre is not merely entertainment without real soul. She has been gifted with hidden “ties” to what we may think of as the supernatural but is actually the real world distorted and played down by our habitual lenses, or what we think is habitual.
Her genius in this novel is to repeatedly insist that the magical is always available. You just have to suspend your disbelief.
She has taught British Lit and creative writing at Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado since 1992. Check out Crater’s Amazon site online to view her compelling photograph and covers of her books and stories. She’s got a following.