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Medusa's Web
by Tim Powers
HarperCollins, $26.99, 358pp
Published: January 2016

The incomparable Tim Powers has gifted us again with a dark story that uses love and revenge as motivators.

Set in Hollywood, our protagonists are an estranged family:  a brother and sister, Scott and Madeline, and their cousins, Ariel and Claimayne.  When Scott’s and Madeline’s parents disappeared, they were sent to live with their aunt and cousins.  As adults, both of them avoid their childhood home and their cousins who have turned vicious and bitter.  But in the aftermath of their aunt’s apparent suicide, they are summoned to the family home to stay for a week to sort out the will.  None of these people are happy: Scott and Madeline are haunted by an event from their childhood that is somehow linked to their missing parents, Claimayne is confined to a wheelchair but it seems to be of his own doing - a strange addiction, and Ariel - beautiful but bitter, once loving towards Scott now vengeful.  Lots of angst and secret resentments that have only grown over the years fuel the characters’ motivations.

In Power’s usual style, we wander cluelessly through the book trying to understand with only fragments…hints even…of what our characters already know.  Powers has never believed in using any expositions; he is always about showing, not telling.  So, we know that Claimayne has a nasty addiction to something called spiders and that Ariel, who also is addicted, tries to resist using but also supports and cares for him.  Along come Scott and Madeline, who are hoping, at first, just for a piece of their Aunt’s estate to alleviate their financial distress.  But they stay when they discover there may be answers lurking in the old house that would explain what happened to their parents and a bizarre event when they were children; an event that marked them irretrievably - an event involving a special spider that everyone wants.

Spiders are a strange image on paper that enables the viewer to see another time through another person’s eyes.  Once affected, the viewer can also see spiders anywhere - in paint cracks or rain on a windshield.  But Claimayne and Ariel are not the sole users; Hollywood seems peppered by them and they all want either more and better spiders or an end to all of them.  And that’s the hook:  Scott and Madeline are the only ones to have seen the “mother of them all” spider and may know what happened to it.  But to save his sister, Scott may have to risk everything in a bizarre journey back and forth in time; to his dismay, though, Madeline doesn’t want rescuing.  Claimayne, on the other hand, will do whatever is necessary to secure the spider for himself, even sacrificing his cousins.  And Ariel - she will need to decide where her loyalties really lie and if she is willing to do what is necessary to end the spiders forever.  And the spiders - what they are and how they work is a fascinating plot device.  Powers always manages to engage my imagination so I spend my non-reading time musing over how these things might really work.  ~~  Catherine Book

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