The reason some readers don’t get it? It's not a "cookie cutter" work of genre fiction. It’s a surreal, sublime read – not clearly classifiable. Mainstream horror fans expecting splatterific sequences involving some ghoulish, toy stealing fiend will be sorely disappointed. Fantasy fans hoping for mythic literature à la Charles de Lint may very well be less than satisfied. Lebbon (The Island, Echo City, et. al.) writes without boundaries – there’s a real sense of narrative freedom here. For example, at certain points in the story, the narrator speaks directly to us (the readers) as if we were the central character, Ray:
“His name is Jason, and he used to be your friend until he started sleeping with your wife. You’ve never seen them together, not yet. Their affair is a whisper in the village, oft-repeated like the hush of the incoming tide on the small pebble beach.”
“…the trawlers went out with the tide, returned several hours later, and their catch was sold or auctioned off to provide a living for families whose ancestors had done the same. Fishermen were welcomed in the pubs during the evenings, drinking local ale, singing, and telling stories of the sea whose origins were lost to the dark depths of time. Residents carried family names and traditions that were meaningless to outsiders, but which bore the substance of history to those who knew. Every building with its low doorways, every basement with a bricked-off section, every path that led up onto the cliffs or down to the rocky shore and then faded away… they all carried stories, and some were lost even to the memory of the village.”
Ever since losing his son Toby to a “rare condition,” Ray has been unable to move on with his life. For him, existence is a never-ending cycle of emotional turmoil: sadness, grief, fear, and shame… He sees memories of his son everywhere – in his house, on the village streets, even while staring out at the sea:
“…Toby haunting him with sandcastles and orange crab-fishing lines, calls for ice cream and startled giggles when the waves splashed him…”
Ray has become a shadow of himself, a living ghost unable to come to grips with the brutal reality of his own existence.
But when he finds a box of broken toys underneath Toby’s bed – toys that Ray promised to fix and never did – he vows to keep his word to his dead son and fix every single one. Restoring the toys may be a cathartic undertaking – or it may drive the already emotionally unstable man to madness…
Haunting, atmospheric, and lyrically melancholic, this dark little gem is, simply put, unforgettable.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for almost the last two decades and has written more than 6,000 reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
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