The woman, who was pulling me hard now to a blue sedan idling at the curb, was not my aunt. Until she opened the rear door and pushed me in, I thought she must have mistaken me for another child. Then, before stepping in after me, she looked me full in the face and betrayed no surprise.Already twice orphaned, Loren is spirited away from the young woman he considers his only relative and finds himself in a strange building on the edge of the Mojave Desert. Inhabited by "people looking for lost things" and, as he later realizes, "people who had once been lost--like me," the Hotel Canopus is the life work of his uncle, the collector and pomologist Junius Samax. (Let it be known that A Trip to the Stars features the most fanciful monikers this side of Howard Norman's novels.) Now restored to his real name, Enzo, and assured that his aunt has been informed of his fate, the boy is given the sort of home schooling only Nicholas Christopher could dream up--the usual academic suspects enhanced by ancient languages, Zuni wisdom, mnemonics, and, of course, astronomy. (In this novel of multiple stargazers, even Enzo's wolf dog, Sirius, has a head for the heavens.) Meanwhile, Alma, having failed to find her nephew, attempts to rid herself of her past: she changes her name to Mala and, following the most compelling spider bite in all fiction, joins the Navy Nursing Corps and heads for Vietnam.
As the author alternates between Enzo and Mala's very separate universes, he packs his book with suspense and arcana. Echoes and parallels prevail, as do demons and eccentrics. The Hotel Canopus is filled with exotic individuals, including an eight-fingered pianist-arachnologist, an art historian in hot pursuit of Adam's navel, and women named Desirée, Della, Dolores, Denise, and Dalia. But it also houses a resentful relative or two. A Trip to the Stars is so grounded that all its magic, coincidence, and mystery seem hyper-real, from a girl who becomes a vampire to Mala's lover, a soldier whose shrapnel wounds mirror the Andromeda galaxy. Despite the intricacy of his novel, Nicholas Christopher has wisely declined to preface it with a family tree or a list of dramatis personae. For this we can be grateful, since much of the book's pleasure comes from watching him weave destinies, miracles, and more than a few blood feuds as he proffers the ultimate celestial fix. --Kerry Fried