Published by Random House Publishing Group on 2018
Genres: African American & Black, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Supernatural, Suspense
The Changeling, especially the first half, is literary tension at its best. Victor Lavalle’s novel is part urban fantasy, part contemporary fairy tale with a splash of horror. He manages to weave in themes of parenthood while featuring the city of New York. I LOVED the first half of this book. I was at the edge of my seat and glued to the words on the page, despite being on a warm sunny beach while on my honeymoon. Unfortunately, Lavalle did not stick the landing. The second half of the book was meh, it wasn’t bad, but compared to the perfection of the beginning I was disappointed.
Because the joy of this novel is its suspense, I am going to give a limited description of the plot. The protagonist, Apollo Kagwa, is an avid reader (we would be great friends). Apollo’s father left him and his mother when Apollo was young. He sometimes has creepy dreams of his dad. Apollo eventually starts a book dealing business. He meets Emma, a librarian and they eventually get married. Emma and Apollo have a baby, named Brian, after Apollo’s father. Emma and Apollo are determined to be perfect parents, but Emma begins to act out of character leading to her committing a shocking act. This event leads Apollo on a magical journey.
I loved Lavalle’s prose. He is an excellent storyteller, and his writing is a pleasure to read. I love when a protagonist has a book related occupation. Reading about Apollo’s reading interests and how they flourished into a career of procuring and selling used books was great. The tension that builds in the first half of the story is off the charts. Based off the limited plot summary I read on the book’s back cover, I knew Emma was going to do something shocking. The slow burn leading up to those events ratchets up the tension. And the description of the scene when IT happens is very intense and scary. I also really appreciated Lavalle’s inclusion of themes of post partem depression, black fatherhood and experiences living as a black man in NYC into the story.
Explaining my critiques of the second half of the novel, without spoiling the plot, will be a challenge. The second half of the book features most of the magic and supernatural elements in the novel. Lavalle had too many great ideas. I believe editing the story down and using just a few of these elements would have created a tighter story. For me the plot at the end of the novel became muddled and character motivations did not make sense. I also found interest in the novel declining towards the end of the novel. This was a shame after start of the book when I was losing sleep because I was so captivated by the story.
Despite the weak ending, The Changeling is worth the read. Lavalle is a talented writer and storyteller. I found themes of parenthood especially relevant because my husband and I recently adopted a puppy. The scene of THE incident has become one of the most tense and memorable scenes I’ve ever read.