Review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

The Changeling by Victor LaValle
Spiegel & Grau (March 2018)
448 pages; $12.30 paperback; $10.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

There are relatively few new authors in the horror/speculative field today who can make a reader both disappear into a book and later sit back in awe of the pure storytelling and the ease in which the language flows in such an enthralling, dark manner. John Langan is one. Sarah Pinborough is another. Victor LaValle ranks near the top of the list.

If anyone missed The Ballad of Black Tom, go get it. The same with The Devil in Silver. But for now, sit down with The Changeling and be warned that the hours will disappear between the covers.

The novel is a reworking of a dark fairy tale but so masterfully done, most won’t notice it’s not wholly original.

Apollo Kagwa has an interesting family. When his father left Apollo’s mother and him many years ago, the only clue remaining was not a letter; instead, the father wrote IMPROBABILIA on the cover of a box. When Apollo gazes within, he knows his life will never be the same.

Now he has his own family but the odyssey has already begun. Apollo finds himself on his own hero’s journey when his son is born. Emma, Apollo’s wife, has been slipping away. When she breaks, committing a heinous act, she leaves, fading away into the ether. This story is more like Homer’s tale than anything Grimm put to paper, but then again, many of those sources crossed paths years ago. The Gaiman-esque conversational voice that LaValle wields pulls the reader along the journey to strange places meeting even stranger people. What Apollo discovers is both breathtaking and heartbreaking, a rarity in the genre. The characters, all of them, have been deftly drawn and with compassion, then dragged through the horrors in a way that parallels Stephen King. What LaValle has accomplished is much different, yet just as enjoyable.

Apollo and Emma’s tale is one worth savoring. Within each chapter is a mirror LaValle holds up to the world for us to see the good, the bad, and the just plain awful in ourselves. But, like any strong protagonist or antagonist, the lines have blurred to a point where they cease to exist.

Do yourself a favor and pick up The Changeling. The subtlety may be lost on those expecting pure horror, but for those who want more than the standard fare, you will be highly rewarded.

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