In this debut novel, a valley in France where tourists flock possesses a darkly bizarre history, including mysterious disappearances.
During Chamonix’s annual Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, American runner Cody spots several monkeys. As primates don’t typically live in France, he assumes he’s hallucinating. But Swede and fellow runner Harry “Nils” Nilsson has seen monkeys as well, and a local legend claims they were part of a plane crash in the Alps decades ago. When it later appears Cody has gone to verify the monkeys’ existence, Nils undertakes a treacherous climb to find him. Tourists to the alpine town, primarily skiers and climbers, sometimes vanish without much in the way of explanation. Some attribute these disappearances to animals kept by Eloise, an elderly local woman—creatures so frightening the townsfolk insist they wear bells so people can hear them when they’re close. But humans, too, can be menacing. Nicolas, for one, who’s spent many years in Chamonix as a pornographic filmmaker, ultimately develops such a disdain for tourists that he takes drastic measures. While locals are wary of outsiders, they may stand up for a family of Iraqi refugees when a political party is intent on pushing its anti-immigration policies. Divided by season into four parts, this novel assembles a colorful cast of characters. Though the spotlight continually shifts, there’s cohesion, as players consistently appear even when not the narrative focus. Pietras offers a smartly scripted tale that’s rich in historical significance, including a flashback to the World War II era, and discernible but nuanced themes, particularly an environmental message. The story’s surrealism stems predominantly from instances—generally hints—of the animals in the Alps. While some elucidation, like a potential origin for the monkeys, gears the story toward realism, it doesn’t make the creature encounters or periodic deaths any less unsettling.
A sublime tale that makes its alpine setting uncanny, terrifying, and captivating.(collage-style map, collages, author’s note, acknowledgements, list of sources, author bio)