A tall tale about Amelia Earhart

It’s different, all right. In fact, if one knows anything about Amelia Earhart, you might find this fictionalized account of what happens after her disappearance to be confusing, frustrating and possibly offensive.

But “This Is Different,” by local author Mary Walker Baron, takes readers on a bizarre and mysterious adventure from an unknown island in the South Pacific to New York City in the year of Margaret Mead’s death, 1978.

Why the year of Margaret Mead’s death? you might ask. Because Baron’s book implies Mead is Amelia Earhart’s lesbian lover.

Earhart doesn’t emerge as herself in this novel straight away. We first meet Mere, Star of the Sea, who is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a package, delivered yearly, for her and the native islanders with which she resides. The anticipation of this package is intense, relying on a banana leaf and some amateur sailors.

Mere hopes that her one true love will arrive with the package, although it has been years since they last saw each other in person. Readers will truly be sucked into the anticipation and angst of Mere through a number of chapters as she copes with disappointment and the realization that she must leave the safety of her island home.

Mere has certain rituals she enacts throughout the course of her island day, but as the story unfolds, one gets a sense that these rituals are more than just habit. It is almost as if the main character has a form of obsessive compulsive disorder. Additionally, clues and tidbits emerge as Mere leaves the islands and travels to New York to meet her mysterious lover, and this mystery divulges itself in a complicated, confusing breakdown of Mere at the Natural History Museum.

At this point in the story, not only does Mere seem OCD, but it appears as if she is delusional and possibly suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s. The poor lady is a mess — and seems to believe she is famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart!

While Mere is incarcerated in a mental institution for claiming she is Earhart (no one believes her), the sickly Margaret Mead makes her debut to rescue Mere/Amelia and take her to Mead’s home. Mere/Amelia is then asked to portray the role of an island witch doctor, sent to cure Mead of her ailments, because explaining to the world who she really is would just be too complicated.

Ultimately, the most redeeming quality of this novel is the ever-present theme of love and its many manifestations. Other characters that come and go from different scenes demonstrate how one person can experience so many forms of love, being loved and suffering from love.

From Mere’s island friend and companion in her bed, to a war veteran who takes her under his wing when she is flailing around New York, it is obvious that the author wants to portray Amelia as poly-amorous and bisexual. This, in addition to her proclivity for obsessive-compulsive ritual and almost autistic reactions to certain elements she is exposed to, makes for a complex main character. If you can wade through the confusion, the underlying plot is well developed and manages to make its way to a worthwhile conclusion.

Mary Walker Baron has an interesting story to tell, one that will leave the reader questioning who the real Amelia Earhart was, and whether is it possible she is alive and well and living in a greenhouse in New York. Still confused? Guess you’ll have to read the book and hope it helps!

LYDA TRUICK has a Masters of Library and Information Science and can be reached at lydacaine@gmail.com


WHAT: “But This Is Different” by Mary Walker Baron, Steel Cut Press, January 2011

COST: Paperback: $14.95; available at local retailers and online

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