by Lee Thomas
In her debut novel, Asta in the Wings (Tin House, 2009), Jan Elizabeth Watson captures the peculiar insightfulness of childhood through her seven-year-old narrator, Asta. Forbidden – ever – to leave the house and left alone during the day, Asta and her brother, Orion, fear a plague that their troubled mother has convinced them lurks outside their locked door and tar-papered windows. As Orion recounts: “The plague started some years ago … in a faraway land … not long after our father died from walking straight into the ocean.” These dark allusions underpin the children’s day as it unfolds in whimsical games amid stark circumstance. Yet when the children are forced to enter the outside world, we become even more fearful for their safety.