The Changeling by Victor Lavalle
Spiegel & Grau, 2017
Available: Hardcover, paperback, Kindle edition, audiobook.
There are few horror authors who get the reader to sit back in awe of their pure storytelling, using language that flows in an enthralling, dark manner. Victor LaValle ranks near the top of the list. Sit down with The Changeling, and be warned that the hours will disappear. The novel is a masterful reworking of a dark fairy tale, but reads like it’s entirely original.
Apollo Kagwa’s father left many years ago, leaving behind only a box of memories labeled IMPROBABILIA. Now Apollo has his own family, but the odyssey has already begun. When his wife, Emma, leaves following the birth of their son, after committing a terrible act, Apollo finds himself on his own hero’s journey. This story is more like Homer’s tale than anything Grimm put to paper, but the Gaiman-esque conversational voice that LaValle wields pulls the reader along the journey with him to strange places, meeting even stranger people. What Apollo discovers is both breathtaking and heartbreaking, a rarity in the genre. Each chapter is a mirror Lavalle uses to reflect us so we can see ourselves: the good, the bad, and the just plain awful. The characters, all of them, have been deftly drawn, with compassion, then dragged through horrors in a way reminiscent of Stephen King, although it’s entirely Lavalle’s own. Apollo and Emma’s tale is one worth telling, and should be savored, even though it is tough to slow down.
Do yourself a favor and pick up The Changeling. The subtlety may be lost on those expecting pure horror, but for those who want more than the standard fare, you will be highly rewarded. Once you’ve finished with it, be sure to look for Lavalle’s previous works, The Ballad of Black Tom and The Devil in Silver. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Dave Simms