SHADOWLAND by Alan Steven Kessler


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Kessler’s novel follows the troubled life of a twisted, confused boy.

Steve has been unwanted since birth. His mother alternately ignores and harangues him while lavishing attention on her twin daughters. His father is a silent, barely-there presence, except when he’s beating Steve. As a Jewish boy in an upper-class neighborhood, he’s also subject to both thinly veiled and blatant anti-Semitism. To survive the abuse, Steve descends into a kind of quiet madness from which he views the world around him in bizarrely twisted ways. His best friend, Tom, a boy from the poor part of town, allows Steve the time to spend with Tom’s mother, who has the maternal attitude his own mother lacks. Steve then meets Dane, a new arrival in town who insults and abuses him constantly, often tricking him into getting into trouble; Steve nonetheless worships Dane and adopts him as a role model. Despite occasionally heavy-handed metaphors, Kessler’s textured prose and intense imagery perfectly frame this disquieting psychological thriller. After Steve encounters a hive of bees, for example, Kessler frequently represents his mother’s admonishments as the buzzing of bees inside his head. But rather than let the reader arrive at the connection, he spells it out explicitly in several places. Elsewhere, particularly in chapters that describe the history of Steve’s mother, some metaphors are so convoluted that it’s hard to make out what they’re supposed to represent. Overall, though, Kessler’s solid writing overcomes these minor flaws to present the thoughtfully drawn portrait of a disturbing character.

A complex, multilayered book that will satisfy anyone with a taste for dark, complicated stories.

Page count: 340pp
Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2012


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