"The Boy Who Drew Monsters" (7 out of 10) Keith Donohue, Picador, 2014. 273 pages, hardcover.
I'm not necessarily a fan of horror. Horror movies, books, comic books...once there gets to be more dead people than living, I move on. Yeah, even "The Walking Dead." Sorry. But I do love suspense. A good ghost story will freak me out, and make me hear things that aren't there, jump at my own shadow, and check under the bed to make sure there's no one there.
I saw "The Boy Who Drew Monsters" on someone's Best-of-2014 list, and figured it sounded more suspenseful than bloody, so I checked it out. And I liked it. A lot. A ten-year-old boy nearly drowned a few yars back, and ever since, Jack hasn't been quite right. He was already somewhere on the autism spectrum, but suddenly he was afraid to go outside, had to be withdrawn from school, and has even started lashing out at his parents. They have a fairly solitary life, with winters on the Maine coast making their tourist village nearly empty. A few pages into the book, Jack's mother Holly starts hearing things. His father Tim starts seeing things out on the beach. And his only friend Nick, has terrible nightmares.
Jack has an obsession with drawing monsters, and it seems there's some connection between what he's drawing and what's happening around them; the reader figures that out pretty quickly. But there are layers of suspense and terror to the novel, and what I figured was a pretty elementary scary story got better and more complicated as the book went on. There are a few red herrings, and a few twists, but by the end of the book it was satisfying enough that I was looking at my own ten-year-old son askance as he was scribbling some pictures in the living room.
Donohue takes a cliche setting and stock cast of characters, and makes something compulsively readable
The isolation and claustrophobia of winter is as much a character as anything else in the book, and it made me wish I were reading this, snowed in in New England, instead of out west with our insanely mild winter. I guess you can't win them all. Some might dismiss this as derivative without reading it--their home in a Maine tourist town could be out of any Stephen King novel. Some of the elements--a couple who are caretakers of a snowed-in resort--were a little more "The Shining" than I would have liked. The author takes this by now cliche horror setting, and a stock cast of characters (the creepy old woman, the priest, the babyfaced cop) and makes something compulsively readable. There's some darkness, there's some blood, and Donohue serves up enough creepiness for one novel, and has me looking forward to his next.