Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Book Review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

First line: This fairy tale begins in 1968 during a garbage strike.

Holy expletive, this book was intense!

A quarter of the way in, I told my wife this was American Gods by way of Laura Lippman, and now that I've finished, I stand by that description. This is a family mystery, a domestic thriller, a supernatural mindfuck.

Perfect for Halloween and the creepy autumn days around it.

This was my book club's October read, and I inhaled it in about three days. All of us who read it loved it, although pretty much none of us expected some of the elements -- although it varied which plot point or character surprised us.

Apollo Kagwa loves books and stories; his parents' courtship, which opens the novel, has the magic of a fairy tale. His own marriage seems similarly fantastic, from his unusual courtship to his mesmerising wife Emma. But the pressure of a new baby takes a toll on all of them, especially when Emma becomes convinced their baby isn't really their baby. The familial tragedy that ensues is straight from an episode of Law & Order, but this merely opens our novel. What follows is the story of Apollo trying to make sense of this tragedy when everything around seems more and more nonsensical.

LaValle's writing is fantastic -- we all in book club enthused about that -- and the story is so tense/stressful/WTF-ish that the pages practically turn themselves.

Part of why this book resonated so strongly with me is that I remember those fraught, precious days with a newborn. I had what I now realize was a bout of mild postpartum depression, and the paranoid anxieties that gripped me felt impossibly real and dangerous to ignore. Happily, my fears never manifested in any behavior changes but I still feel like I had a brush with something ominous, and Emma -- and her postpartum misery -- really resonated. Horror works best when there's a touch of reality, and this domestic nightmare made me grateful for my life.

Title: The Changeling
Author: Victor LaValle
Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / New York City / Marriage / Fatherhood / Mythology / Tragedy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Spiegel & Grau (6/13/2018)
Source: My public library
Reading Challenges: RIP XIII


  1. It sounds like this was a wonderful book club pick. You've sold me!

  2. Oh my God this book was so scary. I loved it. I read another book of Lavalle's that was ALSO excellent -- The Devil in Silver -- and ALSO featured a lot of real-world resonances. I can't wait to read more by Victor Lavalle. The Ballad of Black Tom is supposed to be really good.