Friday, December 18, 2009

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

A while back I was doing research on SF/Fantasy/Horror awards and came across The Shadow Year, which won 2008 Shirley Jackson award, the 2009 World Fantasy award, and was nominated for a Locus Fantasy award. It sounded intriguing and as you can tell by my shot of it, it was available at my library.

I read this book in two days, which speaks both to my enjoyment of it and the kind of book it is. Reviews compared this book to Stephen King’s work and I found this to be true in the most enjoyable way. There is a short passage in the book where the older and younger brother and their friends find a nudie magazine, and then sort of freak out, is very real and very King, as is the setting—a small town, a somewhat timeless American past, an amorphous taint spreading over the seasons.

The book concerns two brothers (the middle child is the narrator) and their younger sister, Mary, who is both very strange and also the least interesting character in the book. In fact it is her quirk, streaming math with imaginary friends, which may be at the crux of the strange and awful going-ons in the town. This was the disconnect in the book for me. I am all for a vague menace, it certainly heightens tension and gives a book a more universal spookiness, but here the connection between Mary’s powers (for lack of a better word) and the occurrences her brothers experienced did not feel thought out. Her entire character felt tacked on, and I don’t think it was an engineered blindness of the narrator as an older sibling ignoring the intricacies of a kid sister’s life.

Still, I enjoyed the book as a whole, especially the feeling of being out in the dark nights of the town, running alongside the kids as they stalked what was stalking them. Ford’s treatment of the mother’s alcoholism should be mentioned too. He sets up some great dinner table scenes with the kids and the mom that really showcase a child’s understanding of adult problems.

Some of Ford's other books look good as well and I think that I will check them out when I want a breezy, scary read.

Large-Hearted Boy's booknotes post about The Shadow Year was worth checking out.

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