i haven’t been able to concentrate on much lately—i’m living out some quarantine-edition of Time Enough at Last, where i’m prevented BY LAW from doing much more than finally catching up on my reading and my writing about reading, and where my version of henry bemis’ broken glasses-irony is this constant state of unspecific low-level panic that keeps me flitting from one distraction to another, accomplishing very little.
which is why i am so grateful to THIS BOOK for trapping me in a page-turning-headlock because although i didn’t get to anything else i wanted to do that day, falling into a book and finishing it in a day is a pleasure i haven’t experienced for a while.
i liked The Whisper Man, but this one is even better. i found it more unnerving in its premise with more surprising reveals, and i loved the doomy atmosphere as it twists and twists and twists through all manner of disturbing images—portentous dream journals, slender man-ish teen stabbings, crime scenes covered in red handprints, shadowy figures lurking in the deep dark woods. ooOOOOoo
this book also has a richer emotional depth to its characters, specifically paul—coming home after 25 years to tend to his dementia-addled mother in hospice, returning to a past-haunted house in a dying town full of horrible memories where—in between numerous spooky threats—he’s forced to confront his past, his grief and guilt over all the decisions he did or didn’t make.
in short—this book is both scarier AND sadder than The Whisper Man, and those are the two buttons you want to push when book-wooing me.
as far as the scary goes, i love creepy kid characters, and young cult-leader-in-the-making charlie crabtree is creeptastic, shepherding his impressionable fellow-misfit friends into the practice of lucid dreaming—the realm of a sinister figure called red hands who promises the boys vengeance and deliverance in exchange for a sacrificial murder. the boys fulfill their part of the deal in a spectacularly bloody way and afterwards, charlie disappears, never to be seen again. this fact catapults a gruesome crime into dark legend status, spread via internet and inspiring a number of copycat killings committed in the name of red hands over the next twenty-five years.
the ‘sadder’ of it has nothing to do with any of the murders in the book. which makes me sound like a monster, but if you’re the type of person who gets sad over the victims in murder mysteries, it might not be the best genre for you. this book is full of MY kind of sad—nostalgia, lost love, guilt, missed opportunities, withered ambition—all of that too close to home stuff i’m even more susceptible to now that i live like a tender veal calf.
in this book’s venn diagram of scary and sad, the point of intersection is paul’s mother’s dementia. the sad part is obvious—his guilt over abandoning her all those years ago and not coming back to visit until it was too late to connect is heartpunching. but while deeply moving, dementia’s slippage of time contributes to the suspense—as she viscerally returns to past experiences, dredging up secrets and darkness and dangers, shifting unpredictably through time and memories, strafing paul with vague utterances and brief warnings without context: It’s in the house.
ANYWAY, because of this whole concentration-breakdown of mine, this review has already taken me a discouragingly long time to write so i’m going to back away from it now even though i’m not sure it’s useful or coherent.
this book is good, i’m sorry i am bad at words and thoughts right now.
4.5 rounded up – review to come!
♥ to macmillan’s reading insiders club for the ARC!