Book Review: The Changeling by Victor LaValle

“Filled with compelling wonder and deeply-disturbing horror, The Changeling is an extraordinary novel.”

In his follow up to his 2016 novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle writes a beautiful, emotional, and terrifying fairy tale in The Changeling. Apollo Kagwe is a “book man”, searching estate sales and dark basement corners for rare and valuable books. He’s also a new husband and father, wanting to do better than his own estranged father did. As the pressures of parenthood build, Apollo and his wife, Emma Valentine, feel them in different ways. Apollo is drained, but happy. He’s content knowing he’s one of the New Dads, who not only take responsibility for their kids, but who thrive in it. Emma, though, is having a very rough time . . . and to her their child, Brian, isn’t what Apollo thinks he is.

There are other reviews of The Changeling that will give more away, but we’re going to avoid spoilers here. If readers have even the smallest touchstone of trivia knowledge about the title, they can probably guess the next part of the fairy tale–but with his easy style and literary grace, Victor LaValle takes readers on an unexpected and epic journey where the world is a darker and more magical place than we could ever believe. The Changeling is enchanting, but the horror creeps up on you and puts a lock around your throat, chaining you to a steam pipe and forcing you to witness the most awful of misdeeds. The sudden doom that comes into the lives of Apollo, Emma, and baby Brian leaves the reader off guard for the rest of the narrative, tumbling from one awful discovery to the next, relentlessly turning pages to find out what happens next.

LaValle plays fair with his readers, too. Every action a character makes in the book has a purpose. A reason. Every reaction is sudden, half-thought, and almost involuntary. The characters make choices that lead them to bad places, but their reactions are purely emotional and, if anything, get them into even more trouble. Apollo is in Hell, and his journey, his desperation, his need to know, makes The Changeling an extraordinary read.

The characters in The Changeling are as real as they get. They’re broken, but they’re also able to laugh about it. They guess wrong. They fuck up. They keep striving, hoping for the impossible but unwilling to believe that magic is real. They are haunted by the past, and by those who love them. They are unforgettable. Some readers may want to know more about the how and might be left a little adrift, but overall the experience of the book is worth it to any reader.

Filled with compelling wonder and deeply-disturbing horror, The Changeling is an extraordinary novel. Unique, charming, terrifying, and awe-inspiring, LaValle’s latest is definitely one of the must-read books of the year.

JAKE MARLEY

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
Paperback: (448 pp)
Release Date: 13 June 2017

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