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23. 9. 2010

Jeffrey Ford - The Shadow Year

      This book is hard to place, genre-wise, but to me it's definitely a horror. I chose this book for my Book Awards reading list because I knew Jeffrey Ford's name from some New Weird short story anthologies, but this novel is nothing like it.
      Its protagonists are kids, the narrator and his older brother Jim and younger sister Mary. Their grandparents live with them, their father has three different jobs and is almost never home, their mother drinks way too much and passes out on the couch. But that is not to say they're not a happy family. Just that they have problems and secrets too, just like pretty much every family in a small town.
     The shadow year begins when one of their friends disappears and several people report there's a prowler spying behind windows at night. And the three kids start seeing a big white car and a man dressed in white who seems to be following them. They decide to investigate the prowler case, but they soon realize something weird is going on.
      Jim's hobby is Botch Town, a replica of their town he built in the basement, complete with figures representing the neighbors. One day they notice their little sister was moving the figures.
      People can't decide whether Mary is really smart or really simple, because sometimes she's Mickey instead of Mary and sometimes she's other people, she counts things all the time and she's generally a bit off. And just like their grandfather figures out which horse will probably win with all the information available about them, Mary takes all the information about people in town that they've collected on their investigation and figures out where to place them in Botch Town. It gets scary when the kids notice that people really are in real life where Mary put them in Botch Town and even more so when people go missing from houses Mr White's car stood in front of the night before in Botch Town.
      At least they don't have to be afraid of the prowler anymore because they meet an older boy who used to live nearby and whose parents moved away. This boy, Ray, is now hiding at school and comes out only at night to patrol the backyards and knows all about the evil Mr. White.
      In the end, the three kids together with Ray devise a plan to catch Mr. White by luring him to school and trapping him there. When the moment comes, the three are to scared to go through with it. But one day, when both their parents and grandparents are away, the white car is in front of their house in Botch Town. The kids run away and Ray's waiting for them as planned. Mr. White arrives but when Ray's supposed to shove him into the room, he passes straight through Mr. White and disappears. Luckily, the three pull off the rest of the plan without him and anonymously call the police. Turns out the man they called Mr. White is wanted for murder in several states.
      From then on, the town is calm again, or as calm as a small town can be, Mary stops being Mickey and counting, and they all grow up and don't talk about what happened. Only several years later the narrator overhears his parents reminiscing about their neighbors, among others the Halloways who moved away when their son Ray died.

     Fun fact: what I thought was both interesting and scary were the Perno Shell books. There was a mystery about them. Although they were obviously written by the same person, the name of the author (and even the publisher) was different every time, so it was really hard to find them in the library. I was enthusiastic about the idea for a bit, but then I realized it would be impossible today. Before long, someone would post a list of them on the internet, someone would track down the author, publish them all again as a series and libraries would make a Perno Shell shelf. In The Shadow Year, it was Mary who would every now and then bring one. Later, she admitted she found them by smell - they all smelled of pipe smoke. (You could notice the same smell when Mr. White was around. He probably read them to learn about kids so that he could catch them better.)

   Jeffrey Ford is apparently one of those writers who remember their childhood as they lived it, not as adult people usually look back at their childhood, and perfectly describes a little boy's world.
I was genuinely scared for them and felt their horror when for example the missing boy's figure appeared lying on the picture of the lake in the woods, or the school janitor disappeared and Mr. White took his place or... I could go on for a long time.

So to sum it up, I'd say The Shadow Year completely deserved the World Fantasy Award. (Even though I wouldn't  say it's a fantasy, it deserves some award.)

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