Tuesday, January 16, 2018

... a review of _Childgrave_ by Ken Greenhall

Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Valancourt Books (November 7, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1943910871
ISBN-13: 978-1943910878

Childgrave (originally published in 1981 by Ken Greenhall and recently rereleased by Valancourt Books, a local publisher of some amazingly fine books) follows main character Jonathan, a photographer, widower, and father to Joanne, one of the creepiest little girls in fiction. Jonathan is pretty creepy himself. He becomes obsessed with a harpist named Sara. Although he describes her as beautiful, she remains somewhat plain in appearance while still having a profound power over the photographer who desperately wants to photograph her. He continually calls her beautiful but our narrator has a way of making somewhat grand statements that sound more like he is trying to convince himself more than trying to convince the reader. I go back and forth not trusting him and also thinking that he is a misogynistic pig. He’s probably both. Alas, the book was written in another time, to which I am grateful because the pace is perfection. It is slow but I write that not in a negative light. It reads like moving through an old haunted house: a great deal of anticipation with eerie scenes throughout.

To add to the eeriness, the daughter Joanne has an imaginary friend, whom readers will learn is not so imaginary and not so alive anymore. This really isn’t a spoiler if you read the description of the book. Even without discussing this friend, Joanne makes uncanny statements about hoping she has another birthday and wondering if her father will miss her when she dies.

When Jonathan cuts his finger and begins to bleed, Sara licks the blood. He laughs commenting about vampires and Sara’s response is a bit eerie. It would be too easy for her to actually be a vampire, right? Intending for readers to view her as mysterious, her character comes across more like an abandoned exoskeleton.  Is there any substance under that shell? She would be the first to note that she does not know what Jonathan sees in her. As a reader, I'm not sure either. And pseudo spoiler alert: when Sara finally stops being coy and Jonathan is allowed into her bedroom, their first sexual encounter is, err, sensually odd. Sorry, I cannot come up with a better description. That scene is going to stay with me like the sex scene in Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love that references a squashed cockroach. Alright, it may be just a wee bit less impactful that Dunn’s.

The book reads as if Greenhall had two great ideas for a novel but only had one book deal so he just wove them together.  Somehow it works. It resembles a Victorian ghost story and an M. Night Shyamalan film. To write any more would give it away.

I was engaged almost to the last page even though much of the time included being puzzled over the characters’ choices. Nevertheless, it was a great read and I recommend it if you have not picked it up.