Jane Rosenberg LaForge's An Unsuitable Princess weaves a unique combination of fiction and memoir as it tells two stories at once, stories that span the distance between a Renaissance fairy tale and a young woman's experience coming of age in early-1970s Hollywood. This unusual pairing is achieved through a creative rendering of the book's format. Foremost is a fantasy story about a mute orphan and her love for a blacksmith's apprentice; in moments where the fantasy takes particular inspiration from her life, LaForge adds footnotes marked by flowers, which lead the reader into the second part of the book: her true account of young adulthood, Renaissance faires, and the boy who changed her life. As both stories unravel at the same time, the reader is introduced to a new and heady type of literary adventure, one that touches the heart and feeds the imagination.
One would expect, given such a unique style, that An Unsuitable Princess would require some particular skill or endeavoring on the reader’s part in order to best appreciate the book as a whole, but it’s a testament to LaForge’s ability – and perhaps her confidence therein – that the experience of reading this dual narrative feels surprisingly natural. Her alternating accounts are separated from each other by both the clarity of their unique atmospheres and the author’s dedicated tone. In the fantasy, the story of mute orphan Jenny and the young blacksmith Samuel is unraveled in a style that quickly draws the reader into its setting amid Renaissance England. Her characters – from the determined Sir Robert to the imposing Queen Marion – take vivid shape as the story follows Samuel’s determination to survive war and the unknown to be with Jenny. At comfortable and seemingly quite natural transition points, triggered by certain phrases or scenes in the fantasy, we’re brought forward in time to the real-world Laurel Canyon of the author’s childhood and young adult years, where she documents first her adventures in school and life before eventually getting to the heart of the matter, and the stories’ crucial point of relation: a boy named Sam. LaForge recounts their meeting as character volunteers at one of California’s renowned Renaissance faires in the decade when it was known more as a source of bawdy liberation than a family-friendly atmosphere; she explores the experiences they shared before finally resigning herself and her reader to the tragedy that waited at the end of their relationship. In this, the memoir that inspired the fantasy, her narrative is fast-paced and witty, but ultimately profound, infused with pop culture references that bring the world of her memories even more to life.
LaForge handles both the memoir and the fantasy story of An Unsuitable Princess with a caring and intimacy that strikes the reader’s emotions; it is clear in the words, in both the heartrending reality and the blissful imaginings, that the author is baring her deepest, most candid truth to her audience. Her efforts are applied with insight and heart; the combined nuances manifest into a gift as much for her reader, her family, and herself as it is for the memory of an imperfect time and the beauty of a young soul. Through a remarkable execution of prose and memory, LaForge unfolds her tales of fantasy and reality before the reader simultaneously and the result is a beautiful, one-of-a-kind experience.