"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Saturday, May 04, 2019

The Changeling

TITLE: the changeling
AUTHOR: victor lavalle

I wanted to like this book more than I did. I wanted to love it. But I didn't. It reminded me of "The Stolen Child" by Keith Donohue, another book about changelings, but didn't live up to that book's emotional impact on me. That book focused on the changeling and the child it replaced. This book focused on the parents, mainly the father, a man with a troubled past. Apollo Kagwe's white father disappeared when he was a boy. Raised by his hardworking, black mother who had emigrated from Uganda, Apollo had a love for books and reading that led him into a career as a used book seller. He falls hard for a librarian, and soon they're married and parents to a boy they name Brian, for Apollo's absent father. Things are going well, until Apollo's wife, Emma, snaps, does something unthinkable, then vanishes. As Apollo comes to grips with what happened to destroy his idyllic family and searches for Emma, he slowly learns that magic is real and evil exists, in both human and non-human form.

I might've gotten more from this book if I were a parent, but even so, the first half of the book was great, spinning a nice tale of family life in New York City. Lavalle's style is simple, even a bit repetitious. Lavalle lives in New York and he fills the prose with lots of specificity, like street names and details that sound more like they were written by someone who did a lot of research on New York City and wanted to show it off. But I appreciated that he showed New York City as more than just Manhattan.

The second half of the book slides into a realm of magic, where fairy tales aren't fiction, and that's where I started feeling letdown. There are wonderful plot twists and revelations, yet the prose keeps a practical tone where something more lyrical would have been nice. This book was a New York Times Book Review Notable Book in 2017 and I can see why. It's a good story that shows just how much a parent would do to protect or save their child, but it has one foot in realism and one foot in fantasy, as if Lavalle couldn't decide which to embrace. And because of the realistic tone, the loose threads and unanswered questions at the end bothered me more than they should have. They probably aren't enough to warrant a sequel, but for me, they remain irksome, leaving me mildly disappointed in a book I wanted to love.

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