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The Mirror
By Marlys Millhiser

Reviewed by Carl Cipra
Rating: none given

A friend of mine recommended this book to me some weeks ago; but it's been difficult to locate. (It's published by a small press out of Boulder, CO.) Fortunately, a recent business trip to Denver allowed me to visit the fabulous Tattered Cover Bookstore, where I purchased a copy. I'm happy to report that this book is well worth the search!

The Mirror doesn't classify easily. The action centers around what is pretty clearly a fantasy device a magical mirror of some sort; but the time-travel aspects of the story are more the sort of thing you'd label science fiction. Then again, The Mirror often comes across as an excellent historical fiction novel. About the closest comparison I can make is to the time travel novels of Jack Finney, such as Time and Again.

The story centers around three women: Brandy McCabe and her granddaughter Shay Garrett, and Rachael Maddon Garrett, "the woman in between" (daughter of Brandy and mother of Shay). As the story begins, Brandy and Shay are both staring into a weirdly-fashioned mirror on the night before their weddings Brandy in 1900 and Shay in 1978 and neither of them is exactly looking forward to her wedding. Brandy frankly doesn't want the marriage her father has arranged for her; and Shay isn't exactly sure she wants to go through with the marriage she's been pushing for. Suddenly, in a flash hey, presto! the mirror magically exchanges their personalities and "rescues" them from their respective wedding dilemmas. Unfortunately, each of them now finds herself in another (unknown) woman's body and faced with marriage to an unknown man in very disorienting circumstances!

Only gradually do Brandy and Shay come to learn the true nature of this grandmother/granddaughter exchange and to face the fact that this exchange seems to be permanent. Most of the novel explores how they deal with their new lives: Shay, in the body of the girl who would become her Grandma Bran, living in a Colorado that existed some fifty-plus years before Shay was born; and Brandy, in the (unexpectedly pregnant) body of her granddaughter, dealing with that "strange new world" of Boulder in the 1970's. Through Shay's eyes, Millhiser gives the reader a fascinating panoramic view of everyday life in the Boulder area from the turn of the century to the 1970's; whereas through Brandy's eyes Millhiser provides a hint of just how frightening (and ridiculous) modern times might appear to a woman raised in the traditions of the Victorian Era.

And then there's Rachael Maddon Garrett. As I said earlier, she's "the woman in between," as much a victim of the mirror's awesome powers as either of the other two women. Rachael is raised by a disconcerting mother who frequently seems to demonstrate "second sight" and some kind of foreknowledge of future events; and she raises a daughter who mysteriously seems to have gone crazy on the night before she was supposed to get married. Her outlook and hang-ups are molded by the influence of her mother/daughter, and her life is later shattered by the actions of her daughter/mother.

A tale of three women and their relationships over time, a family saga to rival any made-for-TV mini-series, a fascinating portrait of Colorado life over the decades, a back story exploration of time travel paradoxes The Mirror is quite a heady, well-written mixture; and I found it very enjoyable! If you can't find a copy locally or if you aren't able to swing a quick trip to the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver trot on over to Lammas and see about ordering a copy. I think you'll find it'll be well worth the effort!

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