Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Shadow Year -- Jeffrey Ford

Jeffrey Ford won an Edgar a couple of years ago for The Girl in the Glass. I wasn't as taken by it as the judges were, just as I wasn't as taken with The Physiognomy as the World Fantasy award judges were. I liked the books well enough, but there was something about both of them that left me cold. Clearly I have a blind spot.

I was hoping to like The Shadow Year much more than those others. I'm a sucker for books about childhood, books that seem to mix very real memories with fiction, and some of the ones that rank high with me are Rick McCammon's Boy's Life, Bradbury's Dandelion Wine, Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Lansdale's The Bottoms, and, well, I could go on and on.

While Ford's novel wouldn't be near the top of my list, it was okay. It begins at the end of summer, and it's told by a boy who has one more year of of elementary school before entering junior high. His family doesn't have much money. His father works three jobs, and his mother is an alcoholic. His sister, Mary, sometimes assumes the identity of "Mickey," as well as at least three other characters, and she has a mysterious affinity for numbers. His brother, Jim, is older and much more sure of himself. In the basement, Jim has build a model of their hometown. He calls it Botch Town. While a serial killer stalks the real town, Mary moves the figures in Botch Town into positions that foretell locations where bodies are found, among other things. The killer, Mr. White, begins to stalk the family.

This isn't the usual serial killer novel, however. The novel is, I'd have to say, very loosely plotted. Ford seems a lot more interested in recording his memories of the middle 1960s and what it was like to be a kid in a small town in those days than in the plot. In that since, the book rambles, but it's fun to read all the side material, which is more fun than the serial killer plot. The supernatural intervenes now and then, especially around resolution time.

I have a feeling this is another book that everyone will like more than I did. For me, it was only a moderate success.

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