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Breakfast with the Ones You Love
Eliot Fintushel
Bantam Spectra, 288 pages

Breakfast with the Ones You Love
Eliot Fintushel
Eliot Fintushel has published short stories in Asimov's, Analog, Strange Horizons, Amazing Stories, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Crank!, and in the anthologies Jewish Sci-Fi Stories for Kids, Jewish Detective Stories for Kids, Nalo Hopkinson's Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Polyphony 4. His fiction has appeared in the annual anthology The Year's Best Science Fiction several times. He has been nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Award and the Nebula Award, and has twice won the National Endowment for the Arts Solo Performer Award.

Eliot Fintushel Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Hebblethwaite

Sixteen-year-old Lea Tillim is a girl with a talent. Well, maybe "talent" isn't the most appropriate word. An ability, let's say. A power. The power to make people ill with a thought, even to kill them if she wants. But there's one boy who considers it a talent: Jack Konar, who says he is one of the God Tetragrammaton's Thrice Chosen, and is building a "spaceship" in a forgotten part of a Sears and Roebuck store, in readiness for the coming of the Meschiach, when the Thrice Chosen will gather together and be taken to the Promised Land. And he needs Lea's help.

All nonsense to Lea, of course, but she humours Jack because who else does she have in her life (apart from her cat, Tule)? Her family disintegrated several years previously, and she only puts up with Mrs. Bobson because the old woman provides the roof over her head. Besides (much to her own surprise), Lea is taking quite a shine to Jack. All turns sour, though, when some gangsters enlist Lea to help throw the result of a boxing match -- and she nobbles the wrong man by mistake. After that, nothing and no one is as it seems to Lea -- not even Mrs Bobson and her marquetry circle.

It is not hard to imagine the story of Breakfast with the Ones You Love being told as a comedy; it would be a rather dark comedy, to be sure, but parts of the book have an inherent preposterousness that would lend themselves to being played for laughs. But Eliot Fintushel takes a different tack, grounding his novel in a gritty urban reality which ensures that, however weird or daft things get, one thinks twice about chuckling.

A good deal of this is down to the characterization of Lea, whose first-person narration (unlike so many examples) actually sounds like a character's voice rather than that of an author. That voice lends the tale an authenticity that acts as an effective counterpoint to the fantastic elements. As something of a downside, though, when the book does take off into the further reaches of the imagination, that same authenticity prevents us fully engaging with it (because we're told about the extraordinary events in exactly the same tone as the mundane ones). But it's worth it in this case, as it maintains the novel's emotional integrity.

And the emotional dimension of this book is strong. The way Lea talks about her family life, it's like a distant dream world (incidentally, "breakfast with the ones you love" is what Lea considers characteristic of a "normal" life, like the one she had before this). It is compelling to trace her journey from that world into the novel's present, where she tries to "kill" her good looks; and forward, as Jack changes her mind about doing that, and Lea's relationships take turns she never expected.

Breakfast with the Ones You Love is a fine example of what the maturing field of fantasy can produce in the early 21st century: a work which is not dazzled by the mere presence of the fantastic, but uses it as one element in the wider fabric of its story. It may travel to the edges of the "supernal realm," but there is always the voice of Lea to keep us anchored in the here and now; and Fintushel keeps the anchor chain taut until the very end.

Copyright © 2007 David Hebblethwaite

David lives out in the wilds of Yorkshire, where he attempts to make a dent in his collection of unread books. You can read more of David's reviews at his review blog.

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