Seven-year-old Jamie falls down a “very long hill” into a dimension of nightmares.
That’s meant quite literally: the Oidhche (one of many untranslated Gaelic words and phrases peppering the text) is populated entirely with monsters from children’s nightmares; the very worst, the eponymous Lairdbalor, springs from Jamie’s own fears. The white California boy soldiers on through hellish, surreal landscapes, supported by his stuffed rat, Bilbo, turned magically alive, and a series of not-quite-trustworthy guides. Yet with every sleep, Jamie grows years, even decades, older; even if he escapes this world, will there still be a home for him? Debut author Kaufman conjures terrifying scenarios, from the creepily unsettling to the graphically horrific, with crisp, elegant prose. The narrative remains tightly interior, bound within Jamie’s thoughts and feelings, but the effort to maintain his childlike mindset as his body ages and his reflections grow more sophisticated requires increasingly artificial gimmickry. Readers will slowly realize that the Lairdbalor represents nothing less than a concrete projection of the nihilistic existentialist crisis of a morbidly anxious child. As with most postmodern philosophy, Jamie responds by stoically embracing the abyss within—a solution not without heroism. Alas for storytelling, it also leads to a curiously deflated conclusion in which the apparent reward for hundreds of pages of unrelenting misery and horror is only fatalistic quietism.
Best suited for those readers who turn to Nietzsche and Hesse for pleasure. (Horror. 14-adult)