Robert Cormier has been called "the single most important writer in the whole history of young adult literature." In 1991, he received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, honoring his lifetime contribution to writing for teens. From the Trade Paperback edition.
Much of Cormier's fiction poses a paradox: you are most alive just as outside forces obliterate your identity. Cormier's protagonists want to be anonymous, and their wishes are fulfilled in nightmarish ways. In Fade , which encompasses three stories in three decades, 13-year-old Paul discovers an incredible secret gift: he can become invisible. His long-lost uncle appears, to tell Paul that each generation of the family has one fader, and to warn him of the fade's dangers. Paul, however, abuses his power and quickly learns its terrible price. Twenty-five years later, Paul, a successful writer, confronts the next fader, his abused nephew Ozzie, whose power is pure vengeance. And 25 years after that, in 1988, Paul's distant cousin Susan, also a writer, reads his amazing story, and must decide if Paul's memoir is fact or fiction. Fade is an allegory of the writer's life. Paul's actions stem from his compulsion to understand the behavior of the people around him; Susan's questions and her awful dilemma, which concludes the book, result from her near-pathological writer's focus on other persons, a purpose her unreachable late cousin serves well. Omniscient powerPaul's invisibility and Susan's access to his unpublished workleads to identity-consuming responsibility. At its best, Fade is an examination of the writer's urge to lose identity and become purely an observer. As in all Cormier's novels, the protagonists are ciphers whose only affirming action seems to be to assert, however briefly, that they exist. The story is gripping, even when it approaches melodrama, and Cormier concentrates on each action's inner meaning. Fade works better as allegory than as fantasy; this is Cormier's most complex, artful work. He seems to challenge himself as a writer, and in doing so, offers a respectful challenge to his readers. Through him, they will discover the extremes of behavior in the quietest human soul. Ages 13-up.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Delacorte Books for Young Readers
September 12, 2004
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Excerpt from Fade by Robert Cormier
Fade PAUL At first glance, the picture looked like any other in a family album of that time, the sepia shade and tone, the formal poses, the men in solemn Sunday suits and the women, severely coiffed, in long skirts and billowing blouses. It was a portrait of my father's family taken before World War I on the front steps of the house in Quebec on the banks of the Richelieu River. The family moved to New England shortly after the picture was taken, my father along with my grandparents, my five uncles and four aunts, among them my aunt Rosanna, whom I would love all the days of my life. I discovered the photograph when I was eight or nine years old and was told immediately of its mystery by my cousin Jules, who swore me to secrecy. I found out eventually that the mystery of the photograph was not really a secret, although it provoked various reactions among members of the family. Some dismissed the mystery not as a mystery at all, but as a failure of the camera's mechanism or the result of a childish prank. Others spoke of the mystery in hushed tones, with raised eyebrows, as if even the mere mention of the picture would bring terrible consequences. My grandfather refused to talk about the photograph altogether and acted as if it didn't exist, although it occupied a place in the big family album in the mahogany desk in the parlor at his house. My father was amused by it all. "Every family has its mysteries," he said. "Some families have ghosts, we have a picture." The mystery? In the space that was supposed to have been occupied by my uncle Adelard, at the end of the top row, next to my father, there is simply a blank space. Nothing. My uncle Adelard had disappeared at the moment the camera clicked and the shutter opened. My uncle Adelard was always disappearing, going away and coming back again, a drifter whom I regarded as a glamorous figure, an adventurer, although he was thought of as a hobo and a tramp by some of the others in the family. The family had settled down in Frenchtown on the east side of Monument in Massachusetts along with hundreds of other French Canadians, living in the three-decker tenements and two-story houses, working in the shops producing combs and shirts and buttons, sending their children to St. Jude's Parochial School, and attending mass at St. Jude's Church on Sundays. They shopped every day in the stores on Fourth Street, although they made regular excursions to Monument Center, the downtown shopping district. I was puzzled by the way the people of Frenchtown accepted the daily grind of the factories, week after week, year after year. My father, for instance. A handsome man who was quick to laugh, he enjoyed a great reputation as a ball player in the Twilight Industrial League, swift and daring as a base runner and hitting dramatic home runs in the clutch. He danced the quadrilles at weddings with the same kind of quickness, whirling my mother around dizzyingly on the dance floor with whoops of delight while she hung on for dear life. The next morning he trudged his way back to the Monument Comb Shop, where he worked for forty-five years, enduring the layoffs, the lean years of the Depression, and the violence of the strikes. My uncle Adelard escaped the shops-the daily drudgery and the layoffs and the walkouts-just as he had escaped the photographer's lens in Canada. That was why I felt a kinship with him. In that summer of 1938, I was thirteen years old, timid and shy and sometimes afraid of my own shadow. But in my heart I was brave and courageous like the cowboys in the Saturday afternoon serials at the Plymouth Theater. I felt that I, too, could become a hero if the opportunity presented itself or if I were tested. But there were no opportunities in Frenchtown. I longed to explore the outside world I saw in the movies or heard about on the radio or read about in books. Unc