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The Motion of Puppets


The Motion of Puppets

Eadweard Muybridge was an English photographer important for his pioneering work in photographic studies of motion and early work in motion-picture projection. These accomplishments play out throughout the text of Keith Donohue's THE MOTION OF PUPPETS as both subtext for the biography translation Theo Harper is working on and the unique “situation” in which his wife, Kay, finds herself.

THE MOTION OF PUPPETS immediately calls to mind both Kafka's THE METAMORPHOSIS and the episode of “The Twilight Zone” entitled “The After Hours” about the department store mannequins that come to life at night once the store is closed. If that pairing does not spark your interest, then nothing will. This was a decidedly weird, eerie tale and more than worthy of a Halloween season read.

Young Kay Harper has found a career as a circus performer and takes a summer job in Quebec City with a troupe that resembles the famous Montreal group, Cirque du Soleil. Her husband, Theo, is a college professor working on the translation for a proposed biography of the late Eadweard Muybridge. He decides to join her in Quebec City and spends summer sabbatical working on his book.

"I hope that THE MOTION OF PUPPETS receives the promotion it deserves as I feel it is destined to be a dark-fantasy classic."

Quebec City is a charming and mysterious place with a mix of old and new. Kay enjoys getting lost by walking up and down the various side streets and often becomes transfixed.  She is especially taken by the surreal-looking toy shop named Quatre Mains that never seems to be open. She is drawn somehow to the marionette hanging beneath a large bell jar in the front window and is intrigued by his half-painted face and ancient look. Every time she passes by, the shop is dark and she feels like the summer will go by without her having the opportunity to step inside.

This all changes late one evening when Kay joins members of her circus troupe, which includes the overly friendly ringmaster, and then decides to walk home alone to avoid her handsy colleague. While doing so, she gets turned around, and it takes a bit of walking up and down strange streets until she ends up somewhere familiar --- the front of her toy shop. The cause for her frantic scurry was the feeling that she was being followed by someone. To get away from her supposed pursuer, she tries the door handle to Quatre Mains and finds it open.

Our story now jumps squarely down the rabbit hole as what previously were only hinted-at horror and subtle fantasy elements turn into a full-blown living nightmare. Kay awakens the morning after her late-night jaunt to find herself completely changed. She soon realizes that she has been transformed into a puppet and now resides in the back room of Quatre Mains.  She is surrounded by several other puppets, some in between changes and half-done, that are a mix of both friendly and somewhat less than congenial. She is even admonished by one of them with the warning “Never enter a toy shop after midnight.”

This transformation is a complete nightmare as the puppet form represents everything Kay is not. She was built for motion, and stillness was always the most difficult pose for her to hold as a circus acrobat. However, the capturing of eternal youth while in puppet form has its appeal, and as Kay slowly loses her humanity and accepts the life of a marionette, she begins to care less about escaping. She is forever trapped between the world of words and the world of motion.

Meanwhile, Theo is frantic about his wife's disappearance and contacts the Quebec City police. Of course, he immediately becomes the number one suspect, although there is no motive for Theo harming his wife. During his search he befriends one of the theater employees from Kay's circus, the diminutive man known as Egon, and the two conduct their own tireless search. Throughout, Theo seems somewhat drawn to the toy shop that always caught Kay's eye. Once he gives into the temptation and enters that world, he will be forced to make a choice between abandoning the life he knows and stepping into one with which he is completely unfamiliar to save his wife.

I hope that THE MOTION OF PUPPETS receives the promotion it deserves as I feel it is destined to be a dark-fantasy classic. Keith Donohue has previously written stories that toed the line between fantasy and reality but never as successfully as he does in this novel. It borrows and expands upon many themes found in horror, fantasy and crime fiction, and is completely unafraid to take turns that the reader will not expect --- some of which are shocking.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on November 4, 2016

The Motion of Puppets
by Keith Donohue

  • Publication Date: October 3, 2017
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Horror
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 1250141192
  • ISBN-13: 9781250141194