Thursday, June 28, 2012
Jess is a nine year old boy with a beloved older brother Stump, who is autistic. Jess and his family live in rural North Carolina, where the boys and their mother attend a charismatic church led by a former meth addict turned prison preacher named Carson Chambliss. One day, he decides that Stump should be healed and, as Jess watches from outside through the boards of the building, proceeds to accidentally kill his brother during the service. This tragedy causes a series of events that are narrated by Jess, the town sheriff, and the midwife, Adelaide, which detail a family’s spiral into tragedy and despair.
This psychological suspense is dark, disturbing, and bleak. The gothic setting of a backwoods country church and its sinister leader practically drips with foreboding and foreshadowing. Jess is a likeable and naïve narrator whose youth and inexperience add a measure of unreliability to his words. Sheriff Barefield, on the other hand, is a man of few words, yet much is conveyed and understood in those short chapters. It is mostly through Adelaide, a generous and wise narrator, that the reader discovers the secret that Stump witnessed, which resulted in so much sorrow and heartache.
Although the plot is compelling, the characters interesting and the setting unusual, I found this novel to be too dark and depressing to enjoy. We all know that humans can be sad, miserable creatures who often contribute to their own downfall, but the evil that Pastor Chambliss brings to this family and town overwhelms the plot, overshadowing any hope of redemption or justice. Because this character is so one-dimensional, it was difficult for me to relate to the book, yet I appreciated some of its qualities and would recommend it to the right reader who was in the mood for a dark, bleak, and skilled portrayal of a tragedy.
This is the author’s first novel.
Other titles you may enjoy:
Long Lost by David Morrell (2002)
Successful architect Brad Denning finds his perfect existence shattered when a man claiming to be his long-lost brother kidnaps his wife and son, forcing Brad to find his family before a dark secret from his past is exposed.
Places in the Dark by Thomas Cook (2000)
Cal Chase watches his younger brother William follow his wandering soul, never expecting him to find true love, but when a stunning woman walks into William's life, Cal begins to worry about his safety as well as his heart.
The Barrens by Rosamund Smith (2001)
Haunted by the memory of a murder he witnessed as a child, Matt McBride becomes erratic and obsessed with guilt after the disappearance of another young woman--a woman he knows too intimately for a married man--making himself a target for the real killer.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Little, Brown, 2012
Jack and Mabel came to Alaska to start again. Middle aged and childless, they left their easy life in the Midwest to test themselves in this harsh and wild land where their nearest neighbor is many miles away. Unfortunately, the work needed to homestead their claim is much more than Jack can handle, and he refuses to let Mabel help him outside, so she becomes lonely and longs for companionship. One night they forget their worries and build a snow child to pass the time. The next morning, the snow sculpture is gone and in its place is a small gift. Jack isn’t sure but he thinks he saw a little wisp of a girl vanish through the trees, wearing a red scarf.
Mabel sees the child too, and she thinks her mind is playing tricks on her. The small gifts the child leaves tell her otherwise. When she and Jack compare notes, they are reminded of the Russian fairy tale of a snow child that comes to life. Mabel becomes obsessed with finding this girl, whom she believes is the snow child come to life, and Jack worries that the remoteness and isolation have affected their minds. Does the girl really exist or have they invented her in a last attempt to have the child that they have longed for so many years? Or is it possible that a wild child could be living by herself in the mountains, coming to Jack and Mabel only when it suits her moods? The couple finds that the girl brings depth and meaning to their existence in the wilderness, even if they have to eventually let her run free.
This is a wonderful and captivating book. Although I was skeptical of the magical realism genre that has been assigned to it, it is not a fantasy and does not have magical elements. The reader may have to suspend some beliefs regarding small children surviving alone in the wild, but I found this very easy to do, especially when faced with the brave and engaging child named Faina. I loved the characters and their relationships: Jack and Mabel are caring and loving people who support and nurture each other and the child; Faina is a smart and strong child who tries to change herself for love but ultimately cannot; the neighbors that become close friends are spunky, humorous and literally, lifesavers. The author’s spare and clean writing style perfectly matches the snow and cold that is Alaska’s long winter, yet the reader will long for the warm summer as the characters do. I can’t reveal the ending except to say it is satisfying and bittersweet and perfect.
This is the author’s first novel.
Other titles you may enjoy:
Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire (2003)
A retelling of "Snow White" set in Renaissance Italy draws a link between the original fairy tale and the Borgia family's infamous practice of poisoning its enemies.
Alphabet of Thorn by Patricia McKillip (2004)
Working in the royal library as a translator, Nepenthe becomes obsessed with a strange book, given to her by a young mage during the coronation of the new Queen of Raine, and begins to discover her destiny.
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (1999)
Living in a Victorian countryside town overshadowed by an imposing stone barrier, Tristran is compelled to retrieve a fallen star for the woman he loves and crosses to the wondrous other side of the barrier, where he encounters dangerous rivals for the star.