The Storyteller's Death: A Novel
“A good gift for readers over a wide spectrum, especially those who like their exploration laced with a hint of mystique, mystery, and the mystic in a tropical locale.”
Earlier novels by Ann Dávila Cardinal have aimed for young adult readers, and the first few chapters of The Storyteller’s Death offer a child and then adolescent’s point of view: Isla Sanchez surfs a confusing childhood in which her alcohol-abusing mother regularly sends her to Puerto Rico each summer to live with maternal relatives there, in modest comfort and with cousins to play with—but most importantly, a stern grandmother who’s also a gifted storyteller (cuentista) and a great-aunt who loves and comforts the very lonely girl.
When the grandmother dies, Isla is 18 years old and begins to have powerful visions of the stories she’d been told—yet with frightening new details added. Experiment teaches her that to write the story down in complete detail can halt the invasion of the related vision. One family death after another, Isla struggles to master this unwanted gift of stories from the dying.
At the same time, adulthood, even in her ultra-protective and conservative Puerto Rican family, means that Isla feels a powerful attraction for a young man she’s been prevented from socializing with because of his dark skin color and lower status on the island. His kindness and tenderness have drawn her since childhood, but now those characteristics stir a new response. While she’s trying to handle this, and to keep up with her more sophisticated and elegant Puerto Rican cousins, the visions feel invasive. They can take over when she’s with others, regardless of her willingness.
Her mother finally learns about these storyteller visions, and at first offers sympathy, but it doesn’t last:
“When my mother’s eyes finally swung my way, just a glance into their glassy surfaces told me I wouldn’t be finding help there. But I had to try; there was no. one else to turn to. Not anymore. . . . ‘That thing we talked about yesterday? What if it happens again?’”
From this point, about halfway through, The Storyteller’s Death becomes a mystery, with Isla seeking the truth of her family’s past and struggling to right their connections with others on the island. And, of course, the thread of romance continues. After the slow pace of the first half of the book, the second half feels lively and intriguing and is laced with Puerto Rican customs and phrases, offering a delightful visit to what will be a fresh new setting for most readers.
The book’s promotion as an adult novel may not be well chosen; it is, at heart, a coming-of-age piece, often sweet and touching. And this will make it a good gift for readers over a wide spectrum, especially those who like their exploration laced with a hint of mystique, mystery, and the mystic in a tropical locale.