Lucy Martin goes to live at the house from which her great uncle Oscar disappeared when he was just a boy. Apparently, he rowed out to sea, but there's no ocean in Iowa.
Lucy discovers a book that brings to life whatever story beginnings you write in it. Oscar returns, but now Lucy has started another story, with its own problems. Her father has turned himself into a bird and flown off. Can the two heroes shape their story beginnings into good endings?
A lot of characters lie in this book, usually because 'no one would believe them'. They do have the grace to be uncomfortable about lying though.
Lucy's family attends church regularly. Great Aunt Lavonne studies alchemy, astrology, numerology, etc., and Lucy's father takes an interest in Lavonne's work, becoming something of a magician. The King in the book is a sorcerer as well. Both have familiars and at one point Lucy's father draws something like a magic circle. There is also an amulet depicting a circle with a pentagon inside.
There is a massacre of birds by an army of cats.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Crude or Profane Language or Content
This story had several interesting facets. There were times when the interplay of the two main characters reminded me a bit of Digory and Polly in The Magician's Nephew. Lucy, the heroine, actually considers the way time behaves in Narnia as she considers her own problems with the Book of Story Beginnings.
The stories are woven together in a most unusual way, the sorts of story beginnings that a young boy or girl might write, and which then intertwine with each other to create surprising results. I didn't always care for the mix of stories being told, but I was always surprised by how they were turning out. I loved the moment when Oscar sees how some of his stories have resolved and thinks that the ending is really a bit silly, and has the 'urge to revise'. Though, of course, as a character in the story, he can't actually do so.
I like the way the story of Oscar's loss is handled. After coming back after a 100 year absence, his whole family is dead, and we feel his grief, and also his joy at discovering that the oldest man in town was his best friend as a boy.
The ending of the book was very fine, nicely tied up in a most surprising and oddly satisfying way. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about the origins of the Book itself, but that was only a small detraction. I might have preferred a little less of the occult studies, though they don't go into great depth on any of them. Also, I didn't find the book as absolutely gripping as I might have liked. It may have been the unusual, fable-like settings that threw me, or perhaps something else. But I suspect most readers would enjoy it a lot.