Michelle Tocher

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By Michelle Tocher

IR Rating:
Equal parts fairy tale and grief narrative, Michelle Tocher's THE MAY QUEEN blends familiar stories with one family's larger-than-life drama. A heavy but worthwhile read.
IR Approved
In the wake of Auntie May’s impending death, the inconvenient truth of her niece Molly’s birth is revealed—bringing with it generations of trauma, lies, and fairy tales.

Molly’s life has always been full of fairy tales. Her eccentric Auntie May compared her to Thumbelina, and Molly could never fully understand why. But in the wake of May’s cancer diagnosis and impending death, secrets become clear: Molly’s mother Cora is actually her aunt. May is her true mother, via a single-planned trust with Cora’s husband.

May believes herself alternately to be a changeling, a siren, Snow White, or any number of other whimsical characters. She has woven herself in and out of Molly’s life, attempting to keep wonder alive while holding onto the secret she and Cora swore to maintain between them. As her tumor grows, though, the family’s grip on their big secret slips away. Soon, the family is unearthing May’s many secrets: her lovers, her collection of fairy tales, her association with them, and her feelings for Molly’s father—all under the watchful eye of May’s ever-fading spirit.

Michelle Tocher’s THE MAY QUEEN is a story of stories: Thumbelina underscores the narrative, with Molly, May, and Cora each taking turns as heroes and villains within it. The story changes hands from Molly to May to Cora to Gerald, with life and death meaning little when it comes to who gets a voice. As Cora attempts to find her own place in the family’s narrative, revisiting her own childhood and bonding with her indigenous in-laws, Molly follows the voice of May’s spirit (be it her actual presence or a figment of Molly’s imagination). The narrative is fluid, moving in and out of reality with little warning, and weaving in fairy tales both well-known and obscure. While it can be confusing, this is by design. Grief is not linear, and every character’s journey is believable in its convolutedness.

That said, THE MAY QUEEN is not a lighthearted or easy read; it will plunge straight into the heart of any reader in mourning. For the observer coming to terms with their own faith and loss, it can be a breathless and difficult experience. But this, again, is by design—and, again, goes to show what an artful book this is. Michelle Tocher has spun a tale that skillfully mirrors human fears, especially women’s fears: what does it mean to be the heroine, the victim, or the evil queen of one’s own story? Can one be all three at different times? Is being any of these things really so wrong? THE MAY QUEEN interrogates all this and more, and in a way that both stirs and calms the heart.

Equal parts fairy tale and grief narrative, Michelle Tocher’s THE MAY QUEEN blends familiar stories with one family’s larger-than-life drama. A heavy but worthwhile read.

~Kara Dennison for IndieReader

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