ften people give you books to read that meant something to them but are mush to you. But The Mirror, loaned to me by a work friend, knocked me back in my seat. It delivers. And I can see why this lady tracked this one down (copyright 1978) and bought it.
So Shay is a modern (i.e. 1978) girl coming up at the end of the free-love era, at the edge of matrimony to a man she’s cool to, a casual consideration towards a lifetime commitment. And while trying on her granny’s wedding dress and looking into that creepy family mirror (brought in through dark and sinister circumstances from the Orient) she happens to meet the eyes of her stroke-bound grandmother and
Yes, the two switch. Shay finds herself back in the early 1900s in her grandmother’s young body, about to be shoved into a horrible arranged marriage to a stern miner. While enduring and experiencing this strange world, she continues to hold to some forlorn hope that somehow she can reverse this process and reclaim her life. But eventually she (and the reader) realize she’s not going back. She’s stuck, and will live a history already predetermined, one she knows through her mother’s stories (which she paid scant attention to while she was so pretty and so free) and one she seems unable to change. In this, she becomes a bit of a witch, knowing when to pull the family’s monies out of the depression-bound banks before the hit, but unable to prevent the deaths that will come (including that stroke she knows she will suffer). In this, it is a very melancholy (yet intriguing) tale.
And then, the next part. We jump forward to find grandmother Brandy in Shay’s body, surrounded by a devil world of free love, casual vulgarity and unimaginable technology. We see her recognize places from the life she once lived (and which we experienced as Shay), the changes, her being out of place. It’s a wonderful story, this pair where each loses their selves in too much freedom or not enough, when being time-torn results in a full lost of friends and family. I was really stunned with this one, and sad when it concluded.
A point I must admit. I’ve written my own castaway-in-time tale (you can buy it below) but I don’t think I approached it was quite the level of observation that Ms Millhiser did. The casual recognitions she makes (that in-the-past Shay discovers Brandy’s legs and armpits are unshaven, and that she doesn’t know how to deal with her own period, nor how to prevent a pregnancy) felt bluntly realistic. I just had to nod – the past is not a sound stage where everyone dresses funny and one knows one will get back once Doc shows up with the Delorean. The past is what it is – people different from us, a world different from ours, a total isolation in the midst of these othertime masses.
A fantastic book. Check your library or online for this one. Worth the search.