Monday, February 27, 2012
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who don't mind the spooky stuff turning out to be not-so-spooky
Audio Download (approx 10 hrs)
Publisher: Iambik / Graywolf Press
Narrator: Mark Douglas Nelson
I dig suspense as much as the next guy. Gimme a book with some creepy old farmhouse full of strange noises at night, surrounded by over 600 acres of dense dark woods, and you've got yourself one happy little reader. The only thing that could ruin a book like this would be if it failed to live up to its own hype, right?
Ooh Castle, how you built me up only to bring me down, slowly and angrily, to beat my fists against the muddy humus beneath my knees...
J. Robert Lennon's Castle initially came to me as a review copy, among others, from the lovely ladies at Graywolf Press. Somehow, it fell to the wayside and began to get buried beneath the other, newer review copies that were arriving... and I've always felt horrible about that.
A few months ago, however, I ran across the audiobook on Iambik's website and realized that this was my chance to finally get it read. Much, much sooner than I would ever get to it in print copy, too! And so it became my commuting companion for the entire week.
It all begins with Eric Loesch, an apparently unstable and irritable man, and his purchase of an old abandoned farmhouse upon returning to his hometown. As he peruses the deed to the property, he discovers a small portion of land, deep within his woods, that does not belong to him. Bent on uncovering the identity of the person who has gone to great lengths to hide their ownership of whatever lies hidden back there in the forest, Eric displays unusual suspicion towards the townspeople, many of whom seem to remember him - though he does not appear to remember them. Callous and cold, he seems to harbor a strong dislike for unnecessary human contact and will go to great extremes to protect his privacy when he feels someone may be placing it in jeopardy.
While seeking out whatever information he can about the mysteriously blackened out name on the house papers, Eric begins to renovate the farmhouse. He appears to be suspended in a state of constant unease whenever he is in and around his house, suffering from a strange, unexplained fear of the basement and waking in the night to the sounds of crying or keening, or whistling?
As the home renovations come to an end, Eric rewards himself with a little trek through his woods to the large outcropping of rock that's visible from his bedroom window. Priding himself on his flawless sense of direction, he makes slow and aggravating headway through the thick and gloomy forest, eventually losing track of time and getting himself lost. Just as panic is threatening to grip his heart, suddenly - out of nowhere - a white deer appears and leads him out of the woods safely. (Though he is not sure why, he feels a connection to what he calls his deer.) On his second attempt, he successfully reaches the rock outcropping but manages to lose his backpack which contains all of his supplies and a change of clothes. Yet what bothers him more is what he finds on the other side of that large, slick boulder. It's a miniature castle, just as dilapidated as the farmhouse he brought back to life, and he immediately understands that this impenetrable fortress does not belong to him.
Sounds like a good set up so far, doesn't it? You have to give props to Lennon for not showing his hand too early... the man knows how to draw out the suspense. Throughout the first half of the book, as you get to know Eric, as the little nuances of his personality come to light - how quick to anger he is, how he holds everyone around him in such contempt, how much more intelligent he believes himself to be, his incredible sense of entitlement - you begin to wonder just how much Eric knows... about himself. I mean, is it really possible for this guy to be such a crass, volatile person? What is it about his fellow humans that he finds so disgusting?
Over the course of the second half of the book - without giving too much away - he begins to recall the shitty, abusive childhood he suffered at the hands of his indifferent parents and a wacky, loose-cannon sort of psychologist; and about his career in the military and the reason he headed back to his hometown, and things start to come into focus for us. Sadly, the more we learn about Eric and his motives, the less spooky or supernatural the whole first half of the book starts to seem. Towards the end, I got the feeling that the author just sort of ran out of steam and settled with a hum-drum ending just to get the whole thing over with. To say the ending was depressing and a let-down would be an understatement.
To be honest, as the end of the book was drawing near and I was still struggling to make heads or tales of what was going on, I thought up at least two other directions the author could have chosen to take that would have kept me happy and maintained the overall creepy/uncertain theme he had going on.
The narrator that Iambik chose for this audiobook threw me off quite a bit. Mark Douglas Nelson's voice sounds like that of a much older man, causing me to assume Eric Loesch was a man in his late 50's or early 60's, when in reality he may have been closer to 30 or 40. Though, as booksexyreview and I discussed the audio in detail, during the week that we were listening to it (she was always a few chapters ahead of me) she pointed out that the things that bothered me about Mark - his long drawn out but's... and his extremely proper pronunciations - were actually quite a good fit for the strange and awkward Eric. At the time, I found it difficult to agree with her because it was all quite distracting to me. But now that I have put some space between me and the book, I think I can see where she was coming from.
So, a mediocre review for a middle of the road sort of book. While nothing to write home about, it might be worth a flip through on a slow, rainy afternoon when you've got some time to kill and no expectations to kill it with.