Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Published June 2017 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review
When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, all he left his son were strange recurring dreams and a box of books stamped with the word IMPROBABILIA. Now Apollo is a father himself—and as he and his wife, Emma, are settling into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s old dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. Irritable and disconnected from their new baby boy, at first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of postpartum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go even deeper. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.
Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood, to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest, which begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts, takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.
Book two, this week, of the books I judged by their covers. Book two, this week, of the books I judged by their covers whose covers turned out to be right. Well, this one was also pitched to me as a dark fairy tale and I've been feeling like it was time to get back into fairy tales.
That reading rut I've been in for months? This might just be the book that pulls me out. It's not my usual read, very deep into the fantasy realm, but it's also the first book that I've literally been unable to put down in months. Maybe because I needed something that completely took me away from reality. Maybe because sometimes going outside of your comfort zone is exactly what it takes to remind you how great reading can be.
The Changeling is gruesome, and scary, and twisty. It builds slowly, feeling like a perfect ordinary, if somewhat sad story. Then suddenly, the book takes off and LaValle takes readers on a macabre adventure that sucked me in and made me forget where I was and how long I'd been reading.
LaValle included copious references to fairy tales and literature that, of course, appealed to me, including making his lead characters a librarian and a buyer/seller of books. The man clearly knows his way around the book world and the history of stories.
Paul Beatty (author of The Sellout) compared The Changeling to the work of the Coen brothers. The Fargo kind of Coen brothers movie seems more than an apt comparison with an ordinary setting, a lot of unexpected twists and tension, and a whole lot of blood. That gory factor generally turns me off in a book or a movie. But the Coen brothers have a way to do it that I can handle. Victor LaValle seems to have that same touch. Maybe because it feels appropriate where it's used, but also because the stories have so much more to recommend them.
I've never heard of LaValle before. A review on Vulture.com called LaValle a "prolific horror master." Now, I'm not a big fan of horror, not in my movies and not in my books. I don't want to read a book that makes me even more afraid of the bad things that really could happen to me. But if his particular brand of horror combines characters I care about in great story lines and I can don't feel like I won't be able to walk into my own house alone after dark, I might just have to give his work another try.