Trafalgar Square Publishing (1992)
Reviewed by Stephanie Gunn
The Good Fairies of New York is the story of two Scottish thistle fairies, Heather and Morag. Eighteen-inch rebels, complete with swords, kilts, fiddles and badly dyed hair, their main desire is to start a punk rock band. Their plans are turned upside-down when they accidently hitch a ride to New York and wind up hungover in the apartment of Dinnie, the ‘worst violinist in New York’. His neighbour is Kerry, an artist who suffers from Crohn’s Disease who is the unknowing target of Dinnie’s affection. The two fairies decide to matchmake, an endeavour that is complicated by Dinnie’s own nature, Kerry’s illness, the ghost of a guitarist searching for his lost guitar, as well as the homeless and the native fairies of New York.
On the surface, it is a compelling idea: what happens when Scottish fairies encounter America and its own native fairies for the first time? Unfortunately, that idea is never actually explored in any real depth. Neil Gaiman wrote an introduction to this book which compares it to his own American Gods; the comparison finds, in my opinion, The Good Fairies of New York very lacking.
This is supposed to be a light-hearted book. Unfortunately, much of this light-heartedness derives from liberal use of stereotypes for characterisation of the fairies. Both Morag and Heather spend most of their time drunk or hungover. All of the native fairies of New York – Chinese, African American and Italian – all keep to their own enclaves and aren’t seen to blend at all. No doubt, Millar intends this as social commentary, but it can also be seen in the light of blatant racism, as few of the fairy characters are developed beyond said stereotypes.
The human characters don’t fare much better. While a protagonist doesn’t need to be likeable per se, they do need to have some redeeming features. Dinnie is pretty much unlikeable: fat and slovenly, generally antisocial, obnoxious and rude. He lusts after Kerry in his own fashion, but does nothing to pursue her until the fairies decide to start matchmaking. And even then, once he has Kerry’s interest, he pursues some actions that make him even more unlikeable. And more, he never really pays for said actions.
Kerry is more sympathetic – she is suffering horribly at times, her Crohn’s Disease having led to her requiring a colostomy bag. She lives in hope of the bag being removed, but is getting sicker. She tries to bring beauty to the world, for example by giving homeless people Botticelli postcards, since she can afford to give away what little money she has. Her one main goal is to complete her Celtic Flower Alphabet in order to win a competition. Beyond her illness and the Alphabet, Kerry is given little more depth. A good deal of page time is given to descriptions of her carefully dyed and arranged hair, clothing and obsession with finding out which flowers are perfect to wear in her hair, all of which acts to undermine her character and make her appear frivolous. It’s hard as a reader at times to care deeply for her because of this, even in the face of the awful suffering she goes through with her disease.
There are too many plot threads for such a small book. They do act well to keep up a good pace and keep the reader moving forward, but because of the number of intertwining plot threads, none of them ever achieve much depth.
This is a book that almost makes it. It has an interesting premise and the potential to shine a light on, for example, Kerry’s battle with Crohn’s Disease. Unfortunately, the overall shallow nature of the plot and heavy reliance on stereotypes detracts from any of this potential for me.