When I read a story that I don’t like written by someone I admire, it makes feel like there’s something wrong with me. Nancy Kress, for example, is incredibly smart about writing, she gets her science right, she gets her people right–but every now and then I run across a story that rubs me the wrong way. Evidently, there’s something in my particular set of prejudices that keeps me from enjoying “Fountain of Age.”
The opening lines about holding a woman in a ring are intriguing. The setting feels real and has a sense of history. There’s some lovely, graceful clueing in of the technology, like fake dogs and augmented police officers. The writing is vivid. I just couldn’t stand the main character, Max Feder.
Max is a cranky old man who’s been putting on a cranky old Jew act for so long, it’s no longer an act. He’s downright proud of his criminal past and annoyed by the agents who haunt him about it. Now he’s in a nursing home, waiting to die. He dislikes his family, eyes the nurses, feels no pity for the other people who barely get any visitors. He expresses contempt for his own son, which appears to a carryover from the contempt he felt for his wife. The one woman he ever really loved was Daria, whom he met in the Greek Islands, when he a was a young man.
A cloud of implausibilities swirl around Daria. I never understood why she loved him back, or remembered him, or helped him. The biggest implausibility of them all was the One Impossible Thing of the story: that cells from her tumors could grant immortality. Cancer cells are immortal, so it makes a weird kind of “story sense”, but I don’t buy it. Nor do I buy the idea that the cells are effective only when extracted directly from her body; it only makes “story sense” to imprison Daria for the rest of her implausibly extended life. Maybe if this was a movie, I wouldn’t be so bothered by it.
I have mixed feelings about the Rom people in the story. Stevan and his wife Rosie are great characters, Max wouldn’t get what he needs without them, and I think a lot of people will love them. I just didn’t think they fit in with the rest of the setting. But then again, that’s sort of the point of the Rom; they don’t fit in. Again, if this were a movie, I would probably enjoy the color.
Things get complicated and Max is forced to choose which of the two women he can save. He chooses the one who has something to live for. In the end, Max emerges chastened, more willing to live, maybe even to reconcile with his son. And he gets the keepsake he wanted from Daria anyway. Since I never liked him, I wasn’t sure I liked seeing him rewarded, though I’m glad he seems to have learned a lesson.
In short, when I think about this story, I appreciate it as a good story, but when it read it, it just didn’t connect to my feelings. YMMV.
Tomorrow: A story that made me think.