There is something truly captivating about a lost child.
Is that horrible to say?
But there’s a way that a community rallies around those stories, throws everything at finding the missing kid, and lives in every detail, whether it is whispered, shadowy gossip, or the news stories playing full-blast in every store and home.
When fourteen-year-old Tommy goes missing in the park when he should have been spending the night with his two best friends, his mother, Elizabeth, and sister, Kate, are left trying to piece together what might have happened to him. But the truth about what happened to Tommy is not as simple as it appears on the surface. And there may even be darker forces at work. . .
Paul Tremblay plays with the seemingly old story line of kid-lost-in-the-woods in a completely new and different way, bringing in his signature twist of the uncanny—is something supernatural at play or not? If you are interested in his first book, A Head Full of Ghosts, I’ve done a review of it here.
Tremblay excels at stringing readers along for the length of the narrative, building tension slowly with an ominous driving plot, while at the same time being very tight-fisted about his ghosts. As in the real world, there’s never really enough evidence to prove anything one way or the other. If you believe, you will see them, and if you don’t, you’ll find a way to shrug it off. But the oppressive atmosphere is still there.
When pages of Tommy’s diary start mysteriously appearing around the house and no one can account for how they got there, Elizabeth doesn’t know what to think. Her daughter swears she has nothing to do with it and seems scared of the whole situation. Of course she doesn’t want to think Tommy is dead, but could it be his ghost? Is someone breaking in? What is going on!?
This tactic, known in literary terms as the fantastic, is the constant struggle to decide whether what is happening can be explained rationally or can only be supernatural. Tremblay is a master of this technique, leaving not only the reader, but also the characters seesawing back and forth, trying to figure out if they are being visited by ghosts, if some type of prank is being enacted upon them, or if something more insidious is at work.
Devil’s Rock is an elusive tangle of lies, where everyone has a bit of an agenda, and as a reader, I never quite knew which characters I could fully trust. The whole book is definitely a study in grey areas; just because someone might be doing the wrong thing, they might be doing it for the right reason. Then again, they might just be trying to cover something up.
As the details come to light, the pit in my stomach only grew and grew—but that’s where Tremblay really excels as a horror writer. He has a knack for what will make us cringe in shock and horror, but immediately come back for more. The story felt so weirdly realistic too, like it could have been ripped straight from the headlines, that I felt a bit guilty at times, like I should be out looking for Tommy too, instead of sitting inside reading this book.
While the book is really told mostly from Elizabeth’s perspective, where the writing really takes off is with the kids. As in A Head Full of Ghosts, the children drive the narrative and there is a lot more going on underneath the surface with them than is originally apparent. I don't want to give any more away, but don't underestimate kids. They have deep internal and external lives that we often know nothing about.
In that way, the book is a type of coming-of-age, but instead of Holden Caulfield center stage in the moment, most of the action has already occurred. Tommy and his friends now take a back seat and we uncover them slowly, peeling away their layers of fear and walls of secrecy to find out they weren’t exactly who everyone thought they were, including Tommy.
While Ghosts was thinking a lot about representations of events through media and recollection, Devil’s Rock is much more immediate and present on the surface of an ongoing case. It means to unravel the past to get to an exact truth, no matter what that truth reveals.
A great book to get into fall, as you’re walking through the woods, wondering what might be out there, or what might be following you home.
Get your copy of Disappearance at Devil’s Rock
Find out more about the author, Paul Tremblay
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Find out more about the publisher, William Morrow (HarperCollins)
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Associate editor, amateur photdographer, bibliophile, and occasional sleuth.