Set in my home state of New Jersey (specifically, the upper southern part, that “down the shore” area that spreads across Monmouth and Ocean counties), this novel follows the lives of six modern Pagans and their human otherkin — spouses, lovers, family and coworkers — as they deal with this life, the afterlife, and the facts of life — both mundane and magical. But this isn’t Jersey Shore meets Charmed — not by a long shot.
Bob, Ria, Jane and company are smart, witty, thinking people who felt very real, right down to the “ritual-in-a-box-Rubbermaid-tub.” Each story features all of the coven members, but focuses on one, which means, hopefully, that Sophie, Amber and Sebastian will have their own adventures in a future volume. They’re an eclectic bunch, with believable lives. This is occult fiction that places Pagan people in the real world, and in the world of Rugosa Coven, being Pagan is normal. Sure there are other characters who raise eyebrows and make hasty exits, but there is an overall feeling of acceptance in this world that, fiction though it may be, is comforting. The realism of person and place made this an enjoyable read.
In the Author’s Note, Avery says to read the tales in any order — and you can, but I liked the juxtaposition of each story against the next. The first, and my favorite of this collection, “Closing Arguments” focuse on Bob — Wiccan, lawyer, dad, husband (of an understanding Christian woman), and brother to the free-spirited Sophie. He’s in the process of balancing his life in the face of the death of his parents — who maintain their contact from beyond the grave via post-it notes. The plotting loosens up a bit and becomes more character-driven in the subsequent stories, “And Ria Is from Virgo” and “Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply” which focus on Ria (believer and doer of all) and Jane’s (the questioner) inner struggles. Amid the paranormal, esoteric and sometimes fantastical happenings, these characters face their inner demons: OCD, troubled relationships, and addiction. How they deal with these challenges and each other left me rooting for them and wanting more. Weird New Jersey, indeed.
I’ve been admiring this magazine for years. If Witches and Pagans sounds like your kind of thing, you can find it in the newsstand section at some branches of Barnes & Noble, in many Pagan shops, and online.