The young protagonist of Skovron’s unsettling debut reflects on school, faith, and family—and the hostile spirits slowly taking over his Erie, Pennsylvania, home.
From its first entry in November 1964, 12-year-old Teddy uses his journal—a gift from his encouraging teacher Sister Ann—to record the goings-on in his devout Catholic family. The entries mostly revolve around his older brother Danny, a talented 16-year-old athlete soon to undergo surgery for a brain tumor. The boys’ parents make no secret of their preference for Danny—Teddy’s short-tempered, often intoxicated father considers his youngest son a “sissy,” while his mother “says she loves me but Danny is perfect.” Parental disappointment isn’t all that’s haunting Teddy, though; he’s begun to witness strange occurrences at home, including a mysterious thumping noise coming from the family’s “sick room”; his blindfolded mother in her underwear, surrounded by votive candles, praying over a picture of Danny; and later, a malevolent apparition that briefly possesses Danny and seems to be the boys’ grandfather. These events test his faith (“God has to be seeing what’s happening to me and Danny. Why isn’t He doing anything?”) and illuminate terrible family secrets from the past. Proving himself a master of tension, Skovron contrasts Teddy’s everyday musings (what he likes to watch on TV, what he does during recess) with glimpses into his dreams (a giant wave crushing him, St. Sebastian bleeding in his bathtub). It’s a combination of the banal and the bizarre that perfectly foreshadows the darkness soon to come. By the novel’s end, however, that darkness goes from nail-biting to suffocating, as too many pitch-black twists unravel the careful plotting that precedes them. Still, the novel mostly holds together thanks to Teddy, whose sweetness and sensitivity (“I hate my house sometimes but I don’t want to be away from it”) elicit immediate, unwavering reader sympathy.
An immensely disquieting work from a promising new voice.