Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay was released June 21, 2016. I read it November 20-21, 2016.
One night in the heat of August, Tommy Sanderson disappears. He was with his friends in the Borderlands State Park at a place they called Devil’s Rock when he ran into the woods and didn’t come back out.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that.
Tremblay books are really hard to summarize.
This is the story of his mother, Elizabeth, and his little sister, Kate, as they try and figure out why Tommy and his friends went into the woods in the first place, and why Tommy didn’t come out. It’s a story of growing up and growing away, and the moments that take away innocence and thrust children into adulthood. It’s the story of the particular kind of loneliness that comes from losing a parent, from death or from leaving, and the way you might choose to fill that space. The story of what can happen not when we dream too big, but when we think our dreams are too big for us. It’s a story that asks you to believe in the maybe – maybe there’s something more out there, maybe there is a darker shadow in the shadows, and maybe sometimes we can see what’s coming and we can’t stop it.
One of my favorite things about this novel was how much I loved Tommy. Maybe it’s because the story is mostly told from the perspective of people who loved him, but I finished the story with such a sense of attachment to him. It’s also good to see myself reflected in a character – I too spend a lot of time discussing zombie contingent plans when there is a lull in the conversation. I have made note of some of the thoughts shared in these pages to bring to my next discussion with my husband.
I cannot help but compare this to A Head Full of Ghosts. Tremblay’s voice in both works is so strong – his talent for tiny details that make the scene brutally clear, the code in which children speak to each other, and the constant existential crisis of the cusp of puberty and what it means to grow up. Those are all there in both. The difference I enjoyed is that while Merry as unreliable narrator makes Ghosts terrifying, Elizabeth is a very reliable narrator and that makes what happens, the supernatural and the natural, all the more devastating. Her certainty makes me believe. And that’s what makes it scary. That’s what made me get the chills in the end of the book, reading her understanding of events, when I both knew and had no explanation for what happened.
Some might feel that the pace of Disappearance is a bit slow, but I think this was done very intentionally. We experience the waiting and the discovery in almost real time with Elizabeth and Kate. We live through those excruciating days of invasion and the unknown right along with them. We do not get a montage of their pain. We do not get to skip to the revelations. We read their pain, and we earn the revelation. I felt like I was learning teeny bits of information at a time and then when I stopped to look I found myself halfway through the book.
Another excellent book from an excellent writer – 5/5 from me, easily. It is a tight, well-crafted, makes you doubt your own mind kind of story and I would definitely recommend it.
I also want to share a last, slightly controversial, thought. I love the way Tremblay writes women. The controversial part is not that Tremblay writes women well, it is the obvious opposite that some male-identifying authors do not. In both books I have read by him, the women feel very real, like myself or women I know, and a lot of the thoughts and actions that occur could just as easily be a male character too because what they are doing and reacting to is not inherently gendered (for the most part; Marjorie is a bit but it makes sense within the story.) Tremblay writes women as complete people and I think sometimes that doesn’t occur, and is the struggle some women feel in the world of adult fiction. Women are not plot devices, metaphors, or achievements. Tremblay’s work crafts complex and detailed people – his work excellently captures essential humanness, and I think there’s something to be said for that. Both novels easily pass the Bechdel test, and in fact both novels highlight the bonds between women in a way that shapes the narrative. I think that’s awesome.