A Paradigm of Earth by Candas Jane Dorsey is a 2001 book which begins with several traumatic events told in a lowkey voice of depression. Morgan Shelby works with children who have severely disfiguring birth defects. Despite the first sentence of the novel referring to “living gargoyles,” she is compassionate and empathetic to the child Asam, who’s about to undergo massive surgery, which we soon learn he does not survive. Morgan’s partner leaves her, and Morgan has to leave the home they made together. Her father dies after a long illness. Her mother dies in an accident; her grief is a possible contributor. All of this occurs in the first chapter, so it’s not a surprise that Morgan decides to go and live in the enormous house left to her in her mother’s will, a house that until recently had been occupied by a religious order.
Morgan can see that she is not human. It is clear. She has kept the external shell, but everything has been scraped out, there is a void there, an alien void, outer space made internal, and she wonders whether she will ever have the courage, or energy, to explore it.
The book is set in Western Canada in the near future. Morgan spends her inheritance making the house livable, and then takes several boarders, including her Delany, her close friend from college, an artist who has a genetic disorder and uses a wheelchair. Soon others move in, but then the plot shifts when aliens come to Earth, deliver a message, and then leave their bodies behind to be brought up as humans and then recovered by their alien compatriots. Needing a job and answering an advertisement for adult childcare, Morgan unexpectedly ends up working with the alien who’s being held in Canada, whom she calls Blue. Morgan begins to educate Blue, who swiftly advances in vocabulary and behavior, but the plot shifts more than once from a sort of First Contact science fiction to include aspects of suspense, romance, murder mystery, and literary fiction.
A Paradigm of Earth is, in my opinion, a much more complex and more experimental novel than Dorsey’s first, Black Wine. It’s difficult to sum up, so I won’t try, but I’m glad I finally pulled it off the TBR shelf!
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