**** (4 Stars out of five)
Review by Dennis Ray
The Changeling by Victor LaValle, offers great enjoyment if you know a little bit about the story before hand. If you go into it simply by reading the book flaps, then you may find yourself utterly confused and at times aggravated.
The Changeling manages to keep the reader’s interest and succeeds in almost every aspect except for one. Its problem is something I’ve noticed to be more of a trend than a mistake, and like The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead published earlier this year, it tries to mesh two specific genres together — serious, realistic fiction with fantasy.
Combining these two genres isn’t a bad idea or even a new one, but are difficult to read or even at times unenjoyable. It’s like reading To Kill a Mockingbird and at the 3/4 point in the novel find out the Radley house is haunted by ghosts or aliens or holds a wormhole into a different world. It makes an interesting concept but lessens the book.
I love fantasy books. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a genre that expands more than just wizards and magic. If anything, it is our widest genre since it holds such various groups of writers ranging from Ira Levin, Ray Bradbury, William Faulkner to Cormac McCarthy. However, for fantasy to work, it needs to be woven throughout the book. The reader needs to know at least this story is taking place in a different universe from our own. When this doesn’t happen, the reader feels cheated or worse, lied to. Because LaValle is such an excellent writer, the switch in genre becomes even more jarring.
At the front door of his apartment twelve-year-old Apollo Kagwa finds a trunk filled with belongings of his father, who disappeared when he was very young. Inside he finds a book he believes his father secretly wants him to have. Years later as an antiquarian book dealer with a business called Improbabilia Kagwa has just begun to settle into his new life as a committed and involved father. He buys a first edition signed copy of To Kill A Mockingbird valued at $70,000 for $100. Everything is going perfect. Then his wife Emma starts acting strangely. She is uninterested in their new baby boy saying the actual child has been taken and replaced by a monster.
Here lies the problem. Everything (and I won’t give away any spoilers) that follows feels at first like a lie or a dream or whatever, but not the same world as the first half of the book. And I kept thinking it was a lie or just in Kagwa’s head. And I’m not sure if that’s not what LaValle wants the reader to believe or at least question, trying to blur the lines between reality and fiction. However, it feels more like a trick played on the reader than anything else.
As a movie, this story would probably work since I’m sure the trailers and posters would indeed focus on the latter part of the film thus building up suspense as we wait for the strange stuff to begin.
LaValle is a good writer if not a great one, and this is not a bad book by any means and is one of the better ones I’ve read this year. The problem is just that it reads like two different books mashed together to be clever or more entertaining. Only this makes it less.
About the author: Victor LaValle is the author of six previous works of fiction: three novels, two novellas, and a collection of short stories. His novels have been included in best-of-the-year lists by The New York Times Book Review, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Nation,and Publishers Weekly, among others. He has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Book Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Key to Southeast Queens. He lives in New York City with his wife and kids and teaches at Columbia University.
Audio Book read by Victor LaValle