The Uncertain Places

Lisa Goldstein

2012 Mythopoeic Award Winner

This haunting tale of an ages-old family secret breaches the boundaries between reality and magic, revealing the places between them. It is the story of the Feierabend women, whose luck is so good that it is as though they are living in a fairy tale without a dark side.


The Uncertain Places

by Lisa Goldstein

ISBN: 9781616960148

Published: 2011

Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and eBooks

In this long-awaited new novel from American Book Award winner Lisa Goldstein, an ages-old family secret breaches the boundaries between reality and magic, revealing the places between them.

When Berkeley student Will Taylor is introduced by his best friend, Ben, to the mysterious Feierabend sisters, Will quickly falls for enigmatic Livvy, a chemistry major and accomplished chef. But Livvy’s family—vivacious actress Maddie, family historian Rose, and their mother, absent-minded Sylvia—are behaving strangely. The Feierabend women believe that luck is their handmaiden, and so it is, almost as though they are living in a fairy tale.

But the price for such gifts is extremely high. Will and Ben will unravel the riddle of a supernatural bargain, hoping to save Livvy from what appears to be an inescapable fate.

“An exquisitely beautiful, eerily compelling modern fairy tale.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Exemplary…. Goldstein is one of fantasy’s most reliable practitioners, and a new novel from her is always a cause for celebration.”
San Francisco Chronicle

The Uncertain Places continued to surprise me at every page and, as a writer, filled me with raw, disgraceful envy: Boy I wish I’d thought of this one….”
—Peter S. Beagle, author of A Fine & Private Place and Sleight of Hand

“Lisa Goldstein is back and at the top of her game.”
Shelf Awareness

“The arrival of a new Goldstein fantasy is a major cause for rejoicing. And The Uncertain Places does not disappoint.”

“Has it really been nine years since The Alchemist’s Door, Lisa Goldstein’s last book under her own byline? It’s been a long wait, but The Uncertain Places is one of those delightful books that are worth the wait. It combines all the things that I like best about Goldstein’s work: great, believable characters; a well-defined setting (this time it’s 1970s Berkeley); and subtle magic that plays by the rules.”
—Charles de Lint, Fantasy & Science Fiction

“It’s an interesting question that Goldstein poses, and there is no easy answer to be found. What constitutes a ‘happy ever after’ for one person may bring misery to another. Perhaps the stories of one continent cannot survive transplantation to another without being somehow changed in the process. No matter how carefully hidden away they might be, sooner or later, as the territory is charted, they’re brought into the light of day. It’s what happens then that Goldstein has so intriguingly explored in this deeply absorbing novel.”
Paper Knife

“Goldstein’s complex and ingenious plot transplants the forest realm of European folktale, where witches grant wishes with strings attached and you’d better be careful which frog you kiss, into the sun-drenched hills of Northern California in the 1970s— and beyond.”
—Ursula K. Le Guin

“This entrancing book perfectly captures the subconscious logic of fairy tales—you’ll find yourself believing it all and wishing you could go to these places yourself, with all their wonders and perils.”
—Tim Powers, author of The Stress of Her Regard and The Bible Repairman and Other Stories

“It’s fitting that a spider is the symbol of the elf-struck family in this book, because Lisa Goldstein’s prose is more than a little like a spider’s web: so deceptively simple that you could take it for granted until the angle of light changes and its full beauty is suddenly revealed…a tale as tangling, tricksy, and enchanted as the Fair Folk themselves.”
—Tad Williams, author of Tailchaser’s Song

“From Lisa Goldstein, one of our most subtle and enduring writers, comes this exquisite interweaving of fairy tale and modern life. The Uncertain Places demonstrates that love and the stuff of legends are sometimes indistinguishable and share the same dark bed.”
—Lucius Shepard

“A gripping story that twists with compelling dream logic; Goldstein’s fairy-tale family radiate believable unreality, and the faerie realm contained herein evinces the perfect mix of terror and attraction. Start reading this at your peril; once I did, I couldn’t stop until I was done.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Content and Context

“Goldstein fearlessly rubs the dreamlike logic of fairy tales up against stark realism, and each one makes the other more real.”

“It’s an engaging look at Northern California in the ’70s by way of the Brothers Grimm…a shrewd and satisfying venture down the crooked paths and unpredictable byways of the Otherworld.”
—Patricia A. McKillip, author of Wonders of the Invisible World

“It’s all about family values: ancient legacies, young love, dumb luck, and home cooking. And no one understands better than Lisa Goldstein that terror is a dish best served cold.”
—Terry Bisson, author of Greetings and Other Stories and Number Don’t Lie

“Warning: This book contains graphic scenes of nonconsensual housekeeping.”
The Juggler

“Goldstein is in fine form with a darkly compelling modern fairy tale.”
January Magazine

Lisa Goldstein has published nine novels and two short-story collections, including Dark Cities Underground, The Alchemist’s Door, and Travellers in Magic. Her novel, The Red Magician, won the American Book Award, and she has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. She has published dozens of short stories in such magazines as Interzone and Asimov’s Science Fiction, and in anthologies, including The Norton Book of Science Fiction and The Year’s Best Fantasy. Goldstein has published two fantasy novels under the name Isabel Glass and is a founding member of the women’s speculative fiction co-operative the Brazen Hussies.

Praise for Lisa Goldstein

“She has given us the kind of magic and adventure that once upon a time made us look for secret panels in the halls of wardrobes or brush our teeth with a book held in front of our eyes, because we couldn’t bear to put it down.”
The New Yorker

“Lisa Goldstein is the perfect, born storyteller. Her story pulls you in and wraps you round, and it is hard to think of anything else until it is over.”
—Diana Wynne Jones

“Lisa Goldstein’s work deserves to be celebrated along with that of Alice Walker and Shirley Jackson.”
—Lucius Shepard

“Lisa Goldstein…never writes the same type of story twice, and she never disappoints.”
—Mark Graham, Denver Rocky Mountain News

Visit the Lisa Goldstein website.



It was Ben Avery who introduced me to Livvy, Livvy and her haunted family. This was in 1971, when Ben and I were sophomores in college. A lifetime ago, another world, but it seems like I can still remember all of it, every motion, every color, every note of music. For one thing, it was the year that I fell in love. But for another, I don’t think that anyone who experienced what I did that year could possibly forget it.

Ben had gone to Berkeley early in September, before classes started, to find an apartment for us. He’d seen Livvy’s sister Maddie in a play and they’d started dating, and when I got to Berkeley he couldn’t talk about anything else. Now we were going to visit her family up in Napa Valley, in the wine country, for a couple of days.

Back then Ben drove a humpbacked 1966 Volvo, a car that seemed ancient even though it was only five years old. It smelled of mold and rust and oil, and to this day, whenever I find myself in a car like that, I feel young and ready for anything, any wild scheme that Ben or I would propose. The car went through a constant cycle of electrical problems—either the generator didn’t work, or the regulator, or the battery—and on this trip, as on so many others, the battery warning light flickered on and off, a dull red like the baleful eye of Mordor.

We got on the freeway and headed out of Berkeley, then passed through the neighboring suburbs. As we crossed the Carquinez Bridge Ben started telling me about the last time he’d taken the car in, and the Swedish mechanic who told him the problem was with the “yenerator.” He did a goofy imitation of the mechanic, who I was sure was nothing like Ben portrayed him, but I barely paid attention. I was thinking about my upcoming classes, and about this sister of Maddie’s he wanted me to meet.

“Tell me again why I’m coming with you,” I said, interrupting him in the middle of the story.

“You’ll like them,” Ben said. “They’re fun. Come on, Will, have I ever disappointed you?”

“Disappointed, no,” I said. “Frustrated, enraged, terrified—”

“Terrified? When were you ever terrified?”

“That time you took your mom’s car out for a drive—”

“Every kid does that—”

“You were twelve.”

“Yeah. Well.”

“And you haven’t gotten much better since then. Slow down. Ah, God, you’re not going to try to pass that car, are you?”

The Volvo rattled over into the oncoming lane for a terrifying moment, and then Ben swore and moved back. “Where did all these cars come from all of a sudden?” he said. “It’s like they grow them around here or something, along with the grapes.”

“A bumper crop,” I said.

“Give me a brake,” he said, not missing a beat.

“Don’t be fuelish.”

“Have I ever steered you wrong?”

“Yes. Yes, you have,” I said, returning to my first theme. “My very first day at your house, when you gave me that chili pepper and told me it was a yellow strawberry—”

“They’re fun, I told you,” he said. He could usually keep up with me like this; it came of knowing each other since kindergarten. “You’ll like them. And Maddie has a sister—”

“Not as pretty, you said.”

“Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? Maddie’s beautiful, and talented, and creative, and Livvy’s...”

“A pale shadow.”

“No. No, they’re different, that’s all. Livvy’s a chemistry major.”

“Chemistry? What have you gotten me into here? We’ll talk about the chromium molecule or something. Is chromium a molecule? I don’t even know. Stick close to me, Ben.”

“Can’t. Maddie and I have plans.”

“Oh, great.”

The sun was setting, throwing long shadows across the road. We’d reached the farmlands by this time, and I could see cows grazing in the fields on either side of us, and long rows of  grapevines.

We left the freeway and started up a twisting mountain road. Trees stood along either side, just starting to turn autumn red. A truck carrying a load of grapes crawled in front of us, then finally turned down a driveway and was hidden by the trees.

“Look, you’ll like it,” Ben said. “It’s this huge farmhouse, that they’ve added to every generation—you get lost just looking for the bathroom. And acres of vineyards, and their own wine label...Livvy plans the dinner around the wine. Last time she made—”

“Livvy cooks?”

“Yeah, didn’t I tell you? She’s a terrific cook. Interested now?”

“She cooks in the kitchen, right, not over her Bunsen burners? Adding chromium to the meatloaf? Because I think I have a chromium allergy or something...”

“Ah,” Ben said. “Here we are.”

He twisted the wheel hard and we headed down an unpaved road. The road had a brief argument with the car, shaking it back and forth; then finally they seemed to resolve their  differences and we continued on. A few minutes later he parked, and I looked out.

The house we’d come to looked as if Hansel and Gretel’s witch had taken a correspondence course in architecture. The front was the Craftsman style so common in California, with deep eaves, a wide porch, a gabled roof, a couple of stone chimneys. Behind that, though, was another house, attached halfway along its front to the first; this one was Victorian, with curlicues and gewgaws and a round, pointed turret with a weathervane on top. Stepped back behind that was yet another front, timbered and plastered like a Tudor cottage. Balconies stuck out at weird angles, and stairs went up and down connecting them, and small windows peered out wherever there was room for them. Somewhere in the midst of all of this a cathedral tower lifted high above the other buildings, looking as bewildered and out of place as a man who had lost his glasses.

The front door opened and two dogs ran out, barking. Then a girl who looked about thirteen came out onto the porch and hurried after them.

I turned to Ben angrily, wondering if this was one of his jokes—though it seemed a lot more mean-spirited than they usually were.

“Oh no,” he said. “No no no. That’s Rose, the third sister. The rest of them should be around here somewhere.”