Smith wakes up to find himself dirty and in an unknown place. Realizing the gravity of his situation, he decides he must get to the nearest town to clean up and find out what has happened. He begins his journey but recognizes nothing along the way. When he comes upon a group of people, a funeral in fact, he makes himself known and they take him home with them. During his time with the people kind enough to take him in, he begins to fall deeply in love with a woman named Yolette. His inability to understand his new situation and new home, lead to dire consequences.
It’s a great anthropological sort of story. Smith doesn’t understand the culture he’s now a part of. In some ways, he doesn’t want to understand it either and makes no attempt to figure things out with the exception of basic language skills. What he’s learned is all to his advantage though, it’s not to understand or even be able to thank the people who have taken him in, fed him, clothed him, and cared for him. He makes no effort to embrace this new life even after it’s clear that he isn’t going back to his world or time. While there, he becomes obsesses with a woman named Yolette. The love he professes to her is more an all consuming obsession and possession which she doesn’t understand, and by all rights, should feel uncomfortable with. I was uncomfortable with his weird obsession with her as the reader and wouldn’t want to be the receiver of those types of feelings. Smith, however, doesn’t think any of his actions are outside the bounds of normalcy.
There’s no explanation as to how Smith got to this new place or what happened to his old world. Smith doesn’t seem overly curious about it either which is rightly frustrating. He wants so much for things to be what they were but he doesn’t seem to miss the old place just what was familiar and understandable to him. He’s a very odd character that way which is frustrating because it would have been wonderful to see this world through his eyes. Instead we’re stuck with his complaining and pining for what he knew.
I kept thinking of The Left Hand of Darkness with the anthropological aspects and the story of an explorer who comes to a new land that is very different from his own. I liked that Smith was somewhat interested (even if it was only to get something to his advantage) but didn’t on some level have the ability to understand whereas the character in The Left Hand of Darkness did understand but didn’t, to me anyway, seem interested as he was supposed to be observing and not getting involved per se.
The ending, while not giving it away, is a total cop out. In dealing with his feeling for Yolette, Smith succumbs to a depression. The black wolf that follows him and waits patiently for him to wake each morning to become his shadow is the physical embodiment of this depression. It’s effective but letting that get the better of him felt wrong to me. It’s also a matter of his ignorance and the culture he has become integrated with. All around, Smith was a frustrating character and somewhat unlikeable.
It’s an interesting story though and I’m glad to have picked it up even if I can’t say it was a great book. It has its moments and there were more than enough appealing bits to keep me reading.
A Crystal Time
Gutenberg Project Ebook