New Fiction: Medusa’s Web – Tim Powers

Ah, Tim Powers…When I sell in his books I’ve learned to recite Powers’ literary bona fides before I start explaining the plots. So here we go: The Washington Post named Powers’ last book, Hide Me Among the Graves, one of the 50 Notable Works of Fiction for 2012. Three Days to Never was a NYTBR “Editor’s Choice,” and was included on the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Best SF/F Books” list. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award twice, and the World Fantasy Award three times.

So does write genre books or literary novels? Yes.

The books are weird, eerie exercises in speculative fiction that handily bridge literary and genre writing. PW started its review of this new novel by observing that “A new Tim Powers novel is always cause for excitement” before laying out where he’s taking us: “His latest is a twisted journey through time travel, possession, old Hollywood, addiction, and familial violence…”

I’m going to let PW’s reviewer Catherynne M. Valente outline the plot because every time I try I disappear down a maze of outlandish, absorbing detail. Expect review attention.

Medusa’s Web is a book of mirrors and doubles, falling somewhere between a Tennessee Williams play and a Nancy Drew mystery. It centers on two sets of siblings—the forlorn orphans Scott and Madeline and their cousins Ariel, a recovering addict, and Claimayne, a cruel recluse. All four were raised together in a sprawling, crumbling mansion called Caveat in the Hollywood Hills, and all of them share a family secret, a set of arcane drawings known as spiders that, with a single glance, allow one to travel back and forth in time between the present day and the golden age of Hollywood. The time travel is more of an exchange program: the traveler inhabits the bodies of men and women of the 1920s and ’30s, while their spirits are transported into the body of the traveler. Such journeys have become a passionate, secretive cult within the elite of Los Angeles over the decades and destroyed many lives, as the pleasures of possession prove irresistible but bad for a person’s health. When Claimayne and Ariel’s mother dies under extremely dramatic circumstances, the prodigals all return to the roost to uncover her mysterious past and face their own profound attraction to the spiders….
Publishers Weekly

“[A]n atmospheric and complex supernatural thriller, with an old-time Hollywood frame, and it steadily builds to a frenetic climax.”
Booklist

“This novel is as weird as anything Powers has written, but he maintains his usual skillful way of making even the most surreal twists compulsively readable. The vestiges of Old Hollywood have their hooks deep in the story, which moves back and forth in time through the visions of the spider users
— Library Journal

 Medusa’s Web (9780062262455) by Tim Powers. $26.99 hardcover. 1/19/16 on sale.

 

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