I’m a Northeastern girl through and through. I was born in Manhattan, raised on Long Island, and lived in Queens post-undergrad; I went to college and grad school in Rhode Island; the majority of my friends and family are spread between Boston, Providence, and New York City. The furthest south I’ve been in the U.S is South Carolina. So it was with slight trepidation that I approached Tim Westover’s Auraria, a novel centered on a small Southern gold mining town and steeped in rural Georgian history, culture, and myth. With very little background knowledge of the area, I was still able to understand and connect with Westover’s cast of mysterious, quirky, and downright magical characters.
Those characters were one of Auraria‘s biggest strengths. The residents of the town range from a piano-playing ghost to a Great and Invincible Tortoise to fish spirits to the assorted humans who happen to be just as odd as the non-humans. Out of our large cast, I liked Princess Tralyhta and Abigail the best. Both were presented as strong, fearless, and competent, and both were able to take Holtzclaw under their protection from some of the more dangerous elements of the town. The Princess managed to be mysterious, childlike, and threatening by turns, and I enjoyed her random interactions with Holtzclaw, as well as her explanation of how gold forms and why Auraria needs to be rid of it. Abigail, a tough young lady who sees visions of gold, was just excellent, and I would have gladly read an entire novel from her perspective. These unusual small-town folks helped to give Auraria the charming, dusty feel of a sepia-toned photograph–the story of a time that has come and gone.
For me, the weak link was actually our main character, Holtzclaw. As an outsider to Auraria, sent on behalf of his employer Shadburn to buy up property, Holtzclaw is a logical choice to serve as our point-of-view character; we can meet the rest of the cast through his eyes. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, and for good reason (hello, Great Gatsby!). However: Holtzclaw is presented as competent from the start–there is no real arc for him to go from surprised and frightened of the living local legends to deftly negotiating with them. Even when he fails in some of his early business deals, it’s not because he is freaked out by the ghost or the moon maiden or whoever–it’s just because his arguments fail to sway them. He is rarely surprised or impressed by any of the bizarre sights he is confronted with, which was honestly difficult to believe. Despite following him around for most of the novel, he remained a cipher to me (albeit a cipher who liked squirrel brains and a good claret).
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