this is an extraordinary debut novel that comes so damn close to my kind of perfect, and yet another book with a lovecrafty angle that overcomes my antipathy for lovecraft by not adopting his (to me) crappy storytelling shenanigans or his (to any reasonable human) crappy personal views on race&gender&etc. this one’s a complex and delicious blend of literary horror and family tragedy written with the flow and confidence of a much more seasoned author.
i don’t want to go into too much detail, because so much of this book’s appeal lies in its sustained ambiguity, but i will say it’s a beautiful and sympathetic story of a family fractured by the ordinary horrors of mental illness, disease, death, disappearances, emotional shortcomings, secret romantic entanglements, and also monsters. perhaps.
i’m not gonna commit to much more, because for a big chunk of the book, the monster part, while present, is riding along in the story’s backseat, and it’s unclear whether it is ‘real,’ or if it’s more of a symbolic or figurative presence—a sort of fantasy conjured up as an escapist coping mechanism for a young boy’s feelings of loneliness or confusion in a family in which every member is going through some pretty major, life-changing events, unable to share them with the rest of the family because they are all plagued by an inability to connect or communicate in traditional ways, which is established in the very first paragraph of the novel:
I started collecting my older sister Eunice’s suicide notes when I was seven years old. I still keep them all in my bottom desk drawer, held together with a black binder clip. They were among the only things I was allowed to bring with me, and I’ve read through them often the last few months, searching for comfort, wisdom, or even just a hint that I’ve made the right choices for all of us.
Eunice eventually discovered that I was saving her missives and began addressing them to me. In on of my favorites, she writes, “Noah, there is no such thing as a happy ending. There are only good stopping places.”
as a family drama, it is straight-up perfection. all of the characters have nuance and are heartbreakingly real, with such delicate detail-work in their construction, and there are a hundred moments that are pure stunning in their emotional rawness. it’s dark without being grit-lit dark; it’s all very empathy-fanning and relatable even though the specific idiosyncrasies are—one—hopes, not the readers’ own.
the time-loopy structure, the chapters scattered throughout called The Turner Sequence[s], that describe the various characters’ dreamlike experiences in a place called The City, the enigmatic way the more fantastical elements were handled—all of this was shaping up to be one of those books that slay me in that very specific way i find so hard to describe, but which involve a destabilization of the reader, where something is revealed, or where all of the discrete parts coalesce into something unexpected that changes the whole context of the book, where everything pulls back and any expectations or comfort or certainty about what we thought we were reading explodes in a jarring and sense-rocking way.
this one didn’t end up doing that, and the third-act bits were not as glorious as i’d anticipated, but it is still a tremendous achievement. i want to make clear that i do not have a ‘better way’ for this to be written, or how he would have resolved the story into that particular book-feel i was craving, but like a person i wanna make out with—i know it when i see it. it just seemed like it was gonna be that kind of book, it was on the verge of going there, and then it went into some weird sex-stuff instead. which sounds dismissive, i know, and maybe it is. i dunno—i was perfectly happy with the ending and the getting-to-the-ending, but the weird sex-stuff seemed like a stumble in an otherwise very graceful book.
in any case, it’s a remarkable debut, and it would be very good friends/excellent companion-reads with My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Vol. 1 and The Saturday Night Ghost Club. it also pairs well with the netflix version of The Haunting of Hill House, in its outstanding interplay between the deeply sad family story and the horror elements; the fine balance between reality and supernatural. Paul Tremblay and i will come to blows over this, but i love that show deep in my corespace, and it totally does that thing i was trying to describe before. SLAIN!
i am so there for this author’s next book.
i am about 2/3 through and i just need to pause for a minute because this book is TOO GOOD. this is SUCH a karen-y book, and unless he throws it all away in the last hundred or so pages, it will be in my top five books of the year. maybe top three, but i’m going to be optimistic that my next two months’ worth of reading will all be of this caliber. okay, back to reading!
SPOOKTOBER SPOOKTACULAR PERSISTS!