Review of “Towering” by Alex Flinn

3 out of 5 stars!

I’ve never really liked “Rapunzel.” Of all the popular fairy tales in existence, it is by far the most complicated one to retell. Walt Disney Studios tried to keep the story’s original “old world” setting, but the result was the film “Tangled,” bungled animation effectively ruining the sufficiently expanded storyline. I personally despise 3-D animation, but I suppose I’m one of the global few who was disappointed with Disney’s take on “Rapunzel.” Honestly, they could have done better ― the movie didn’t captivate me at all.

However, despite numerous attempts to envision a more detailed “Rapunzel” through novels, the fairy tale has to yet to be placed in a contemporary setting ― until “Towering” by Alex Flinn, which comes out on May 14, 2013. In the dark style of “Beastly,” she boldly steps forward and spins a mesmerizing mystery filled with inexplicable magic and secrets.

Rachel has always lived in her tower, learning of the outside world through books and her imagination. Wyatt left his life in the city to escape from his past, but moving to a small town in the middle of a wilderness seems to be provoking feelings of guilt and regret rather than burying them. The old woman he lives with has secrets begging to be revealed, but it all starts with a beautiful singing voice that only Wyatt can hear. And the more he uncovers about the town’s history, the more he’s convinced there’s more to the picture than he’s seeing… There’s destiny, a prophecy, and a love story. But Wyatt must first believe in all three before he can set both Rachel and the town free.

“Towering” is markedly darker and more sombre than anything else Flinn has written. The reason could be her puzzling, somewhat ludicrous explanation for the importance of the plant “rapunzel” (a.k.a. “mache” or “lamb’s lettuce”) in the plot, or the obvious element of manipulation that repeatedly affects all of the characters. Or that eye-catching “Wuthering Heights” connection.

In a word, “Towering” is sinister. Rapunzel is a girl kidnapped and figuratively incarcerated to prevent being kidnapped and imprisoned by someone else, Wyatt is a modern teenager suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and the “’wicked witch” of the original story has no magical powers, only an altruistic purpose that becomes clearer as the tale unravels. Magic itself, which was so crucial to the original fairy tale, is very ambiguous here, never given direct participation or explanation. Instead, Flinn perplexed me by confusing magic with science and science with magic until I was baffled by her including either as the cause-and-effect for how Rapunzel could be possible in the real world. And asking me to accept that Rachel’s tower would be invisible even to passing airplanes?

I admit: “Towering” drew me in and left me breathless, forcing me to stagger through its pages in less than three days. It is quite as entangled as Rachel’s hair, taking unexpected twists and turns.

However, the fact is that the original “Rapunzel” is whimsical at best and illogical at worst, insensible and incredible. It is difficult to retell it in an old-time setting ― but a modern setting? Impossible. That’s why “Towering” feels like it is lacking something throughout its journey, even though the characters are interesting and their motives are pointed. The ending was kind of laughable ― and surprisingly, Flinn’s use of concepts like “destiny,” “fate,” and “prophecy” in the novel are unlike her. Rachel and Wyatt could have been “destined” to meet and fall in love, but while Rachel’s character development works, Wyatt is as vague as magic in “Towering,” too uncertain and blurry.

I think the center of the novel was the art of manipulation: the prophecy surrounding Rachel, her destiny to save her town, her meeting with Wyatt ― all were manipulated into being because of two drug lords and their obsession with something called “rhapsody.”

In “Towering,” there are too many contradictions: the main characters are manipulated by other characters, but then there are elements ― like Rachel’s rapidly growing hair, magical tears (sound familiar?), and her telepathy with Wyatt ― that don’t fit in with what I first assumed was Flinn’s astute and clever interpretation of what destiny, fate, and prophecies really are. It would have been better if she omitted magic altogether and made “Towering” a gothic satire, but doing the opposite took away the novel’s seriousness and credibility. In this way, it mirrors the fairy tale “Rapunzel”: it doesn’t really make sense, even when everything is explained.

Regarding romance: it’s sweet, it’s tender, but it’s not extraordinary. Rachel is a true romantic, but Wyatt is deplorable in that respect, so their love story takes on a saccharine quality that doesn’t come out to be very memorable.

The best and most creative part of “Towering” was how the old woman Wyatt stays with is a central figure of Rapunzel’s past, present, and future. She becomes both a villain and a heroine, complex to the core but empathetic and amicable all the same, and she is the key to Rachel’s salvation more than Wyatt is. However, even she falls prey to manipulation and control tactics.

I really like Flinn’s writing style ― ultimately, that convinced me to see “Towering” through, with her layered suspense and cloudy descriptions. Although I didn’t find the revelations of the mystery satisfactory, I enjoyed the novel. It showed me a different side of the author’s fairy tale retellings, and it made me think twice about “Rapunzel.”

Natalie Gorna


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