Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine meets Robert MacCammon’s Boy’s Life meets August Burrough’s Running With Scissors in this novel by Jeffrey Ford: The Shadow Years.
I found it in the new section of our public library as it was published in March of 2008. The cover grabbed my attention right away, not only from the eerie sensation derived from the title written over dusk, but from the picture of the car’s fins that evokes the era of my youth.
I’m not quite sure how a narrative from a boy’s perspective can speak quite so clearly into the heart and mind of a girl like me: one who was most definitely not a tomboy. And yet, as I read, I found myself relating to every page because of the memories they evoked.
Do you remember the school’s janitor who came to clean up vomit with the “red stuff” that looked like red rubber erasure scrapings? Do you remember the ads for Ajax cleaner as the White Tornado? Do you remember scaring yourself silly on a summer’s night when reality and imagination became so intermingled that they were no longer distinguishable?
In Ford’s novel, we find a boy just managing to pass fifth grade (his teacher’s name? Mr. Krapp) at the school he’s nicknamed The Retard Factory. School is the least of his concerns, as the town has discovered a recent prowler, a missing boy, and a mysteriously evil man the kids call Mr. White (because of the long white coat he wears and the long white car he drives). Helping them escape many narrow run-ins with this Mr. White, who seems to appear when no adult is ever present, is Ray Halloway. But, wasn’t Ray killed shortly after he moved away with his family a few months ago?
We are transported into the mind of a boy, the terror of a child, the fantasies we conjure when we’re faced with what we do not understand, through the narrative of the book. Not until the end do we find out who, or what is real, and even then there remains a certain among of mystery.
It is the perfect autumnal read.
“Not since Ray Bradbury’s classic Dandelion Wine has a novel so richly evoked the dark magic of small-town boyhood. At once a hypnotically compelling mystery, a masterful re-creation of a unique time and place, a celebration of youth, and a poignant and disquieting portrait of home and family—all balancing on a razor’s edge separating reality from the unsettlingly remarkable—The Shadow Year is a monumental new work from one of contemporary fiction’s most fearless and inventive artists.” from the inside flap