This was the book review I didn’t want to write. In fact, I wrote several other posts before this one because I’m not a fan of disliking things.
But here we are.
For this review, I read The Changling by Victor Lavalle. This was a read that several of my friends read and of which they thought highly. So, I took the plunge and read it.
Below is Amazon’s summary of the novel.
When Apollo Kagwa’s father disappeared, all he left his son were strange recurring dreams and a box of books stamped with the word IMPROBABILIA. Now Apollo is a father himself—and as he and his wife, Emma, are settling into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo’s old dreams return and Emma begins acting odd. Irritable and disconnected from their new baby boy, at first Emma seems to be exhibiting signs of postpartum depression, but it quickly becomes clear that her troubles go even deeper. Before Apollo can do anything to help, Emma commits a horrific act—beyond any parent’s comprehension—and vanishes, seemingly into thin air.
Thus begins Apollo’s odyssey through a world he only thought he understood, to find a wife and child who are nothing like he’d imagined. His quest, which begins when he meets a mysterious stranger who claims to have information about Emma’s whereabouts, takes him to a forgotten island, a graveyard full of secrets, a forest where immigrant legends still live, and finally back to a place he thought he had lost forever.
This captivating retelling of a classic fairy tale imaginatively explores parental obsession, spousal love, and the secrets that make strangers out of the people we love the most. It’s a thrilling and emotionally devastating journey through the gruesome legacies that threaten to devour us and the homely, messy magic that saves us, if we’re lucky.
At first, I didn’t think I had the right book. I keep reading and watching reviews from friends on Goodreads and Booktubers. They raved. I didn’t get it.
And I think that’s why it was so difficult to write this review. I wanted to love this book. Everyone loved the book. I, unfortunately, did not.
Also adding to the difficulty is that friends loved this book and they’ll be disappointed in this blog post review. Frankly, this one took me weeks to write but it needed to be done.
The Changling, made me walk away angry that the promise of the book wasn’t fulfilled and it was weighted down by pacing problems and chunks of description (pages) that were easily glossed over.
And the more I turned the pages and read past those descriptions, the angrier I became. At more than 400 pages, the book didn’t really start until about the 200-page mark.
I consider that a waste of time
The book is described to be a literary horror book and perhaps it leaned too much on the literary part than on the horror. At times, it felt that Lavalle was holding back, depending more on making the literary side of the tale than the horror side. I wanted more of the horror, go for the gusto, make me turn the page. If you’re going to do it, then do it.
Can you combine genre and literary? Of course, you can, Walter Mosley and Fredrick Busch did it for the mystery genre but it’s tricky. It comes down to choices. How much of one genre will you do in one scene versus the other? At times, the choices were more for pretty writing (and it is pretty) than for using the positive attributes of the genre.
The book read like it was in a later draft of a novel and needed two more close reads by an editor who is apt at plotting and pacing. And I think that’s what’s so disappointing. That the pacing was so slow at the front half of the book that it fell flat. At least for me.
But despite all that, there are some things that the book does really well. As a reader, I was able to suspend my disbelief so when the magical elements were more obvious, it fits right in and doesn’t take the reader out of the story. I appreciated that and I was ready for it. So very ready.
It was also refreshing to see this type of story from the perspective of a black man who is a hero. There’s not enough of that in the literary world so I quite enjoyed that perspective.
The incorporation of social media and technology. This was delightful and a treat to read. When photos start disappearing from Emma’s phone, adding to the suspense — well, that keeps me going.
The immigrant story was apparent and lingered in the background like an open web browser. It was lovely.
In addition, I liked, no LOVED the callbacks to the fairytales that the story is based on. It dispels the myth that fairy tales were for children and discussed the rawness of it through dialogue and exposition.
So yes, there were lots that were good in this book. That’s why I say there was promise in this book and why it needed another editor to bring those elements to a faster-paced plot.
Did you read it? Tell me what you think.