The Chalk ManThe Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

fulfilling my 2021 goal to read one book each month by an author i have never read despite owning more than one of their books.

i am famously starbitrary in how i rate my appreciation of a book—i tend to let the word-part of my review do the qualitative assessment part, and the however-many-out-of-five rating is more of a necessary task i treat like a whatever-afterthought. my default is four if i like a book, three if i like it but have some reservations.

this rating needs some clarification.

i own FOUR books by this author, because they’ve always looked like my kinda thing, but i’d never actually read any—a pattern common enough in my book-buying habits that i set myself this monthly goal to cure myself of it once and for all. #bookgoals

i chose to start with her debut, and there’s definitely that sense of debut overeagerness in her writing, like a puppy tripping over its own ears, wanting to do everything at once.

there’s a lot to chew through here: there are mysteries and sub-mysteries—which may or may not be connected—there are dream sequences (which never work for me and i always feel are a lazy and inauthentic contrivance), the OOOO VILLAIN face-off scene at the end is goofy, the chalk men never lived up to their creepytime potential, and a lot of the plot is predictable.

to be honest, it often reads like stephen king phoning it in, and even its premise feels like Stand by Me* meets IT—a pack of twelve-year-olds running loose in the ’80s, finding a dead body, coming of age in the shadow of adult problems they only half-understand, keeping some spooooky secrets amongst themselves until the past comes a-knocking into their adult lives, demanding closure. the group’s token tomboy is even a secretive freckled redhead with daddy issues that our protag-narrator eddie’s crushing on, but unlike her IT-counterpart beverly, she does not initiate a blood-brothering kiddie-orgy with her pals, so at least there’s that.

the writing’s unremarkable—the words push the story out in a nothing-fancy way, the characters don’t have a lot of depth, the focus alternates in perfunctorily short chapters between the events of 1986 and 2016, and the dialogue, characters, and descriptions are pretty basic worker-bee.

so why four and not three? I’M SO GLAD YOU ASKED!

for the standouts: there are a handful of memorable passages scattered throughout; particularly walzer girl’s accident, and that thing with murphy, which are wonderfully descriptive and haunting scenes and show real promise.

and then there’s the ending.

okay, so there are actually a number of “endings,” but i’m singling out two for commendation. there’s the ending featuring one character’s rapid-fire wrap-up, demystifying several loose ends only tangential to the central mystery, which—while somewhat clumsy in execution—delivers satisfying and unexpected answers to those questions.

and then there’s that little spark at the end—that penultimate sentence gently twisting the knife one last time** that made me pop this up from a three to a four. the weaknesses in the writing and delivery i can dismiss as debut clumsiness, but this little wink makes me eager to see where her mind goes next, creatively.

i have three more books here and i’m eager to see this puppy become a doggy.

*or, The Body, if you’re a booknerd.

**however, this appreciation will be soured if i learn that it IS called a “letter hole” across the pond. internet search says “sometimes,” but i’m choosing to ignore that.

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