Polly! by Stephen Goldin (2008)
Herodotus Shapiro has had an unbelievably bad week. His wife left him. The IRS is after him for thousands of dollars. His home/bookstore burned down. On his way to take refuge at his brother’s place he got a speeding ticket. And now his car has broken down in the middle of the desert in front of a large mansion. What more can go wrong?
But now his world takes a turn for the weird. The mansion has a snowman on the front lawn–in the desert in July. The house, which is bigger on the inside than on the outside, is owned by Polly, the most preternaturally beautiful young woman he’s ever met. Polly is an acrobat, a gourmet chef, a psychologist, an international financial consultant, a physicist and a woman of who-knows how many other incredible talents. She has an unbelievable library, an art collection of all the world’s great masterpieces and a print of a previously unknown Marx Brothers film. Her toilet paper is actually silk.
And she seems to have some mysterious plans for him….
“That’s the way the universe works. Not random at all. The universe is passive-aggressively hostile.”
– Polly (she who may or may not be God)
Polly! is a quirky contemporary fantasy with a hopeful message. It follows Herodotus, a middle-aged man down on his luck, as he undergoes a process of rediscovery upon meeting the enigmatic Polly. The story is comparable to the Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life, but it speaks to non-religious skeptics and has a weirdness that makes it more interesting. It’s never clear what Polly is, but she fights entropy, gives some serious tough love, and has plenty of thoughts on dealing with a passive-aggressively hostile universe.
The reader follows Herod’s journey from sorrow to renewed hope and wonder. Goldin’s prose is really enjoyable, it moves quickly with just enough description to make a scene memorable. The pacing is smooth, there’s never a dull moment, and it’s always engaging and unpredictable. There’s some offbeat humour which helps lighten the mood, and all of it feels natural to the story and Herod’s point of view.
While there’s only two major characters, they’re done excellently: Herod is a sympathetic everyman and Polly is vibrant force to be reckoned with. Another aspect I liked was the timelessness of the setting and the themes–it could be set any time in the next thirty years and it would still feel contemporary.
The worst part of the book has nothing to do with its contents—it’s the cover. The cover is confusing to potential readers, and Polly doesn’t even look like that. But hey, don’t judge a book by its cover. Polly has a French maid that is funny but a bit too over the top, and there’s a line or two or dialogue that rubbed me the wrong way, but those are insignificant nitpicks.
I advice checking out the longer sample at Smashwords to see if you like Herod and Polly and its agnostic themes. The book is filled with interactions between these two characters getting all Socratic-method style discussing life, the universe, and everything else. Polly pulls out all the stops on her criticism of organized religion, so if that’s not up your alley, well yeah, you’d think it’s blasphemous. It’s a quirky book that’s not going to appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed the ride and it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
You might like this if you like…
Agnostics and atheists; a giant house with the craziest interior design; tips on dealing with a passive-aggressive universe; lots of dialogue
If military SF is more up your alley, I have also reviewed Goldin’s The Eternity Brigade. If reviewing books in exchange for reading them for free is up your alley (like it is mine), the author has a “Review One, Get One” program. He’s got an extensive backlist so there’s plenty of books to choose from.
Posted on August 29, 2011, in 4 stars, Contemporary and Urban Fantasy, Ebook Reviews, Fantasy, Frida Reviewed, Polly, Stephen Goldin and tagged unlimited wardrobe. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.