A soldier’s homecoming conceals his childhood secret: the gothic excesses of the mad psychologist who formed his character.
Eric Loesch is middle-aged when he returns to his hometown of Gerrysburg, in upstate New York, in 2006. He promptly buys a fixer-upper on densely forested land. A prickly, self-righteous loner, he has run-ins with townspeople and rejects big sister Jill’s friendly overtures. All Eric wants is to restore his house and explore his land. His curiosity is piqued by a massive rock that towers above the forest, and the ownership of a small area adjoining the rock. He finds out it belongs to Dr. Avery Stiles, years earlier a psychology professor at the state university where his father was head custodian. Who is Stiles? wonders Eric. We’re past the halfway point when Eric tracks the now ancient Stiles to his lair beneath a ruined castle, prompting a flashback to childhood. Eric’s angry, unhappy father, who would eventually kill himself and Eric’s mother, had struck up a friendship with Stiles and allowed the psychologist to “borrow” his son for a series of experiments. These instilled in Eric extraordinary self-control, but at a high cost (he was made to torture animals), and led indirectly to his military career (there are hints it ended badly). The training sessions are memorable, as are the scenes of Eric’s family life; the professor’s vicious manipulation of Eric’s gentle mother is hair-raising. There’s a fine novel of domestic strife buried here, far more compelling than the mildly spooky forays into the sinister forest.
The parts are better than the whole in Lennon’s curiously structured fifth novel (Mailman, 2003, etc.).