Plot Synopsis: Matchless by Gregory Maguire

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We've been doing a lot of Gregory Maguire in the short time since this site got up, but there is a good reason for it. If you haven't read his stuff, stop taking my word for it and find one of his books. Start with Matchless. I just finished it and I loved it.

Gregory Maguire is an author who is becoming known for his ability to take old stories and fairy tales and give them new dimension and relevance for the 21st century. His novel Wicked is a compassionate look at the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wizard of Oz. It has been made into a Broadway musical that is immensely popular. With Matchless, Gregory Maguire presents a much shorter but no less compassionate story. Matchless is a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson's much-overlooked tale–The Matchgirl.

The Matchgirl is the story of a girl who is trying to sell matches on the street on New Year's Eve. She meets with no success and is soon freezing to death with only her matches to keep her company. In the end, she sees visions of her grandmother in heaven. The poor little girl has passed on to the next life. Gregory Maguire takes this sad and beautiful tale and gives the titular Matchgirl a kindred spirit, if you will.

Matchless starts with the story of a young boy (the Matchgirl's age) who lives with his mother in a simple set of rooms. He and his mother are very poor and so he must steal fish from seagulls to put food on the table. A very sad tale indeed, but Gregory Maguire gives it magic. The boy has dreams beyond his misfortune. Every night, he hides in his attic room and adds to a humble town he has made out of miscellaneous items he finds–other people's trash. He lives his life vicariously through this little world he has created. In this way, Maguire adds a ray of hope to an otherwise dismal tale. A taste of the unbreakable spirit of children, if you will.

To say much more would be to give away the story, as it is so short. Let us just say that the boy does not meet with the same fate as the Matchgirl, though their lives become irrevocably intertwined in a lovely way. Maguire has really made a peach of a Christmas story with Matchless. Yes, it is sad, but it is also uplifting. Anderson's Matchgirl had the same slightly uplifting quality, but it is not enough for the people of today. We do not easily take heart at the idea that the little girl was going to heaven to see her grandmother. We want to see her rescued at the last moment. Maguire provides that quality without taking away from Anderson's tale. There is a Dickensian quality to Matchless and we love Dickens here at Cracked Spines . If you've read the book or get a chance to read it after seeing this, please comment below. I would love to hear what other people think of this story.

Shelly Barclay 

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