Friday, September 15, 2017

The Twilight Pariah, by Jeffrey Ford

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(Horror) College friends Henry, Maggie, and Russell decide to play archeologist in the back yard of an old, abandoned house, but things get serious when they find the deformed skeleton of a child. (33,158 words; Time: 1h:50m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ Great Characters, Plenty of Suspense

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Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Pro: The plot is tight and complete: the young people uncover the skeleton, learn all about it, and lay it to rest—together with the woman who birthed it and the thing that modified it. There’s plenty of tension and suspense. Everything in the story serves some purpose; almost nothing is wasted.

Probably the strongest part of the story is the characters. That and the strong narration and dialogue that gives them form. Henry, Maggie, and Russell all come to life, and the banter between them never fails to entertain.

There’s a good mix of humorous moments, such as when Russell answers “Of course” when asked if he’s taking steroids, and poignant ones, such as when Maggie says “I couldn’t stand to hear a story about a drug that eases sorrow in your father’s presence” because “he was always nice to me.”

Con: Given the buildup, the ending isn’t as strong as it could be—partly because Mrs. Prewitt is just a cipher to us, so this final resolution of her long tragedy doesn’t move us.

Some of the dialogue and reactions of people toward the end seem off. In particular, Russell’s reaction to the deaths of the Kerbbs seemed unnaturally flat.

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2 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. As a long-time admirer of Jeffrey Ford's fiction, I was a bit disappointed in this. (I'd probably rank it closer to 3 than 4.) It had all the right elements, and overall it's deftly done, especially, as you said, in terms of characterization - I don't think Ford is capable of writing a bad story - but the character's reactions to events struck me as sort of weirdly affectless most of the time, even when they were in danger themselves, which undercut the feeling of suspense.

    1. Rated as a horror story, you might be right. It fails to horrify. For me, a 4 pretty much means that it's better than the run-of-the-mill stories and hence worth suggesting people take a chance on it. The story was so well constructed and the characters were so compelling that I had no trouble recommending it, hence the rating of 4.

      But if you're specifically expecting a good horror tale, I can see how it might be disappointing.