Sheri S. Tepper, author of The Visitor, has written a truly engrossing novel with The Fresco. Though it is long and not actually action-packed, it is a compelling read. To classify the story in one specific genre would be difficult. A combination of elements make it part science fiction, fantasy, mystery and thriller. This makes for a unique novel.
Benita Alvarez-Shipton's mother has died, her children have all grown up, and in her mid-thirties she has only her marriage to Bert, an abusive alcoholic. Leaving him always seems like a great idea but never a viable option. That is, until one day she is out in the woods picking mushrooms and meets up with two "friendly" aliens who call themselves Chiddy and Vess.
They aliens from the planet Pistach have, for a number of reasons, selected Benita to inform the world of their arrival. They instruct her to take an object to a person in power. (And to compensate her for time and trouble, give her enough money to allow her to concentrate on the task at hand). With a distant family member in politics, Benita is inspired to leave her husband and head to Washington, D.C.
She delivers the profound and amazing object demands that those around her to accept her tale as truth. Satisfied she's done as instructed in delivering the message from the aliens, she is ready to start a new life, thankful for the money from Chiddy and Vess. But nothing is ever that simple. Benita soon finds that her role is much more extensive and essential to everyone involved — and ultimately surrounds her and her children with danger.
So what is it the aliens want? Think of them as representatives, trying to get employees at a factory to join a union. Chiddy and Vess are interested in having Earth join a space confederation. However, Earth is in such bad shape as an overall planet that it would first need to clean up, or right, its multitude of social problems.
Sounds easy enough? What Chiddy and Vess have in mind are mostly simple fixes -- stop killing each other, don't abuse women -- but they also have some other, more complicated conditions they expect to have met, like having men who support the right-to-life campaign become pregnant by wasps, infested by larvae and then to have the larvae eat their way out of the "womb".
The choice whether to join the confederation or not intensifies once authorities become aware that other aliens have invaded earth and are using the planet as a sort of hunting theme park. If they join the confederation, united they can drive the evil aliens away. If they do not conform, they will need to fight the interlopers on their own.
Tepper's novel is female-oriented, but justifiably so, and peppered with spice and flavor. She suggests some creative ways of dealing with our world's most controversial issues. Though The Fresco is a little slow at times, and a little far-fetched at others, it is riddled with humor and an overall original story about how things might be when Earth is first contacted by extraterrestrial beings. Overall, a very satisfying novel.