Book Review: ‘The Velveteen Daughter’ goes behind the tale of a rabbit that longed to be real
July 1, 2017
There are certain classic children's books that nearly every child discovers and holds fondly in his or her heart long into adulthood —"Winnie the Pooh" and "Wind in the Willows" are two examples, as is "The Velveteen Rabbit," which tells the story of a nursery toy rabbit who longs to be "real." Behind these iconic stories and characters, there are real histories, the lives of the authors who conceived them, and very often those realities can inspire their own stories.
Laurel Davis Huber saw enough fascinating material from the life of Margery William Bianco, renowned author of "The Velveteen Rabbit," to craft a novel. In her soon-to-be-released book, "The Velveteen Daughter," not only does Huber build a narrative around the fairytale's creator, she brings to life the turbulent career of her daughter, the child art prodigy, Pamela Bianco.
The thread of the story is revealed slowly, in tantalizing and shimmering vignettes, with spotlights on the lives of both the mother and daughter, shining like two pulsing stars at opposite ends of the universe, the narrative dancing along the points at which their rays converge. The storytelling is dynamic and alive, all colors and visions, with the prism pieces of two people's lives swirling in the air, blending and clattering together, often at cross-purposes, and with both past and present woven into a dizzying mosaic.
Pamela Bianco was very young when fame found her, and the inevitable struggles of her life as a child star are at the center of Huber's novel, as is the family dynamic that resulted from her parents' desire to shape her future and her own fledgling autonomy of choice. Building from this point of tension, there is a resulting deep melancholy to the story, as there was in Pamela Bianco's actual life.
Throughout the book, Huber does a subtly admirable job coalescing the theme of all things velvet, whether it be the timbre of a deep voice, the weight of plush curtains, the texture of a moose's antlers, or, ultimately, the spaces surrounding each of her characters as they shift around in their display cases, with young Pamela as the brilliant centerpiece that is too fragile to handle.
Pamela Bianco is the focal point of the narrative, as the title suggests, and much of the drama centers upon her artistic career and the unnatural pressure placed upon her by her father, who sought fame for his daughter when she was extremely young, getting her paintings in front of the likes of Pablo Picasso and other movers and shakers of the world art scene of the early 20th century.
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Pamela's mother appears as a counter-weight to her head-strong daughter and fame-hungry husband, acting as a second voice in the turmoil of her daughter's life. The complex family dynamics are both familiar and foreign, but Pamela's celebrated artistic genius looms like another member of that familial unit. Huber examines this dominating force of fame, as she considers the contrary questions of when natural talent risks becoming an obsession, or when that artistic skill loses its beauty because it is being forced.
Huber also ponders what happens when extraordinary children grow up. They enter the busy traffic lanes of society, disappearing into the volume of vehicles, no longer standing out as unique. Like the toy rabbit in her mother's book, much of a person's life is spent discovering what makes one "real." "The Velveteen Daughter" is a captivating exploration of that tumultuous journey to adulthood that each person undertakes.
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