Editorial Review: Missing Charlie by Jess K. Hardy

Editorial Review: Missing Charlie by Jess K. Hardy

A warm, witty, and imaginative love story for sceptics.

“He’s right. I didn’t truly know who I was until I grew my first tomato, shot my first pheasant, chopped my first haul of firewood. My life, as insane as it is, makes sense up here. It’s simple and hard and sweet and right. And I fit. Old and wrinkled and quiet and sure, I fit. But I can’t say this out loud. While my family suffers, missing out on the lives they wanted to live, their careers, the families they wanted to have. As they go on not fitting, it’s not okay for me to admit that I’ve finally found my home in this cabin. But now, alone with Charlie, maybe just this once I can.”

Former folk music star Nona is 23 years old, and is simultaneously 83. Her mother Penny is a chicken, her sister Bridge is a red fox, and her former manager and (misguided) first love Fritz is a ferret who likes to sleep between her boobs. This uniquely close-knit family of “stinky barnyard animals” also includes Nona’s step-dad, Wally the pig, and brother-in-law Jack, the rabbit.

Nona lost her singing voice years ago, when she and her family were cursed by a jealous witch, and she longs to get it back. Early one winter, injured hiker Charlie limps his way into their cosy cabin and into their lives. Is Charlie somehow involved in this curse? Can he help Nona get her voice back, and return her family to their human forms?

At times laugh-out-loud funny, at times a little steamy and saucy, and with language that’s vibrantly expressive (but not quite in the “enough to make a sailor blush” category), this is not one for the delicately inclined. It’s a robust celebration of the many different kinds of love that can keep families together, and it also touches on misguided types of love that destroy, rather than build.

For those at all concerned, there is a brief “polyamorous” encounter. This scene is more of a hint at something beautiful that took place, than a blow-by-blow account, and is in no way gratuitous or lewd.

The characters are well-developed and relatable, and it is the depth of the auxiliary characters that really drives and refines the narrative. Imbued with colourful profanity and a touch of potty humour, and with self-parody in abundance, these are the most down-to-earth (and earthy…) animal people that the reader is ever likely to encounter.

The writing is flawless, and the overall result is an utter pleasure to devour. The plot is riveting, and the pacing fabulous. The many glorious descriptions of the meals prepared by Nona, and the mealtimes enjoyed by the family in particular, will have foodies longing to be in that homey cabin up in the snowy woods, tucking into a hearty wild-caught stew and enjoying a glass (or bowl) of wine with the gang.

Combining elements of comedy, romance, and fantasy, Missing Charlie is a wonderfully offbeat, messy, and satisfying genre-straddling gem.