I’d like to open this review with the acknowledgement that if you try to hold an author’s previous work against the current, you’re probably doing yourself a disservice in that you’re already establishing expectations based on how good something else was. While I think that’s effective when reviewing a series, it makes things difficult when examining novels as standalone entities that need to be considered separate from a body of work before you try and contextualize them within that body of work. You know? You look at the thing. Maybe you like the thing. You try not to be disappointed if you were expecting the asme sort of aggressive assault that was A Head Full of Ghosts and you’re left with something that creeps and leaves you uneasy, rather than something that leaves you battered.
You feel me now? Right. So. Do as I say and don’t do as I do, basically, because even though I understand that logically I have to weigh these two books for their own merits, I still read Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay expecting A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. Its a different flavour of horror. So of course I’m walking away disappointed because I freaking loved A Head Full of Ghosts with every fibre of my being (and I was worried something like this would happen.)
Lessons: I should know better. Further lessons: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is still an excellent book, but its much more low-key, much more subtle, and doesn’t have the overt twists and turns and shifting past-present-future perspectives that allowed for a much more complex fitting together of the puzzle when experiencing A Head Full of Ghosts. Disappearance is a linear narrative without any screwing around, and it’s creepy in that it alludes to a haunting with an ultra-downplayed supernatural element that is never wholly validated, only suggested. The effect of something so subtle that it permits the reader to question whether or not it’s real, and that doubt permeates the world outside of the pages in such a way that you look askance at the shadowed spaces between your own furniture. You emerge not wholly able to trust what you know as the truth (i.e. there are no such thing as ghosts), and that, for me, is the mark of an extremely successful, compelling read.
Similarly to Head Full of Ghosts, we’re dealing with a broken family, and the characters are as believable as they come: this helps situate the reader in that, unless you come from a wicked privileged background, you can probably relate to the multiple layers of struggle experienced by a single mother with two teenage children: funds are tight, father is absent (actually dead), and Elizabeth’s mother is a much more frequent fixture in the household following Tommy’s disappearance. And, you know, casserole. Lasagna. Food made by neighbours and used to comfort a family that’s grieving. Technology used to prove or disprove the occurrences around the house. The prevalence of cellular phones. Casual conversation and the colloquialisms of teenagers that won’t stand the test of time, but whatever: it situates the book in the here and now and makes it really real.
My only complaint: I wish there was more. I wish I knew what the final note said (but you probably know because you’ve seen it before, even though Tremblay declines to offer all the answers. I bet he sat back after writing the final line and just giggled to himself.)
On the bright side, if you’re ready to get spoiled, Paul Tremblay posted the liner notes on his website for Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, and they don’t disappoint.
I give this book an A. Four and a half stars. It didn’t surpass A Head Full of Ghosts, but it was pretty damned good all on its own. You can read my review for A Head Full of Ghosts by haul Tremblay here too for reference.
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul TremblayDisappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay
Published by William Morrow on June 21st 2016
Check it out: Goodreads
A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts.
Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her fourteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.
The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend his disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration. The local and state police haven’t uncovered any leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were with Tommy last, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock— rumored to be cursed.
Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their own windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connected them all and changes everything.
As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened becomes more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.Buy on Amazon