Published for the first time in the U.S., a bleak bildungsroman from 1997 that’s quite a departure from the author’s subsequent success in epic fantasy (Forge of Darkness, 2012, etc.).
This depressing little slice of life is set in 1971 in Middlecross, a rural community outside an unnamed Canadian city. The town’s unhappy denizens include a drunk chasing his own demons; his abused, cowed wife; his rebellious 13-year-old daughter, Jennifer, who’s rejected a musical gift in favor of taking and pushing drugs; a widowed mink farmer with PTSD; and the groundskeeper of the local yacht club, who’s slowly going blind. Their downward slide heads rapidly toward greater tragedy when 12-year-old Owen, a tough who’s learned to hide how smart he is, arrives in town, falls in like with Jennifer and makes a frenemy of a local boy. Erikson’s prose is lovely, and he certainly knows his way around the landscape of madness and hallucination. But even that prose and the faint hope of redemption at the story’s close can’t lift the unrelenting grimness of the book, nor compensate for the near absence of a plot. Apparently, Owen and his friends’ discovery of a body is meant to be significant, but it just doesn’t seem as crucial as the author means it to be. If this were a King novel (which it resembles in some respects), there’d at least be a supernatural evil lurking in the woods, but those expecting magical doings from the author best known for the sorcery, gods and battles of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series are bound to be disappointed.
While there’s a hint of psychic ability and the echoes of both Norse and Danish mythologies, most of the beautifully written book is remorselessly concerned with very real troubles.