Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Chalk Man

Title:  The Chalk Man
Author:  C. J. Tudor
Publication Information:  Crown. 2018. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1524760986 / 978-1524760984

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The girls' head rested on a small pile of orange-and-brown leaves."

Favorite Quote:  "We think we want answers. But what we really want are the right answers. Human nature. We ask questions that we hope will give us the truth we want to hear. The problem is, you can't choose your truths. Truth has a habit of simply being the truth. The only real choice you have is whether to believe it or not."

Eddie is a child in 1986. Eddie is an old man in 2016. The chalk man defines his life in both these times. The summer of 1986 becomes a turning point in the lives of Eddie and his friends. It starts off as a summer of bike riding, playing, childhood squabbles, and secret codes. It turns into a summer of accidents, death, and murder. The repercussions of that summer linger through the lives of Eddie and his friends. Eddie seems to have compartmentalized the experience and is living a narrow, somewhat lonely life in the same house in the same small English village. Yet, in 2016, the past reaches out and shakes the foundations of that small, safe world.

The book touches on a number of very disturbing themes. Into Eddie's childhood world enter the sometimes violent conversations surrounding a woman's right to choose, illicit relationships, disfiguring accidents, death, and a hacked up corpse. His adult world is of lonely souls holding on to the secrets of childhood, hate born out of a catastrophic accident and the trials and tribulations of life itself. The book is dark and bleak.

Many of the characters in the including Eddie are not particularly likable. The childhood squabbles go considerably beyond what may be considered acceptable child behavior. Bicycles end up thrown in a river out of spite. Older bullies beat up a younger child severely. A child shoplifts on a regular basis; taking things seems a compulsion, but no one notices. A teacher crosses the line in his involvement with a student. The adults in Eddie's childhood world wrapped up in their own worlds. Many of the characters, children and adults alike, are chilling.

Eddie himself is an unreliable narrator. The summer of 1986 seems to not have the innocence of childhood. Eddie appears to have underlying psychological issues that go unaddressed as a child and as an adult. Eddie's life seems governed by the rule of omission. "What shapes us in not always our achievements but our omissions. Not lies; simply the truths we don't tell." In Eddie's case, those omissions are disturbing and rather creepy.

The plot has many layers and many mysteries that connect by a thread in Eddie's childhood. Too much connects too conveniently in the end. All the loose ends are tied up. The present day story introduces characters and connections that stretch the boundary of believability again in a rather unsettling way.

Regardless of the unlikable characters and the tied up ending, the book works. The story is told in a manner that is compelling and that keeps me reading. The writing successfully creates a chilling and creepy atmosphere even flipping back and forth between two periods.

Even though the characters are children, there is not that emotional reaction to protect. The reaction is more like a fascination with the bizarre and disturbing turns of this book. The book carries this through beyond the solution to the mystery of the chalk man. The true ending of the book leaves a chill and a shiver. Innocent chalk drawings on a sidewalk now carry a whole different meaning.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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