April 20, 2009
It took me ages to get this ready. I'm sorry for that… Next R&R will be up soonish too..!
Thank you J. Robert Lennon for letting me review your book
J. Robert Lennon
First published in: 2009
This edition: advance review copy (ARC), Graywolf Press
Cover design not known
The train used as a prop in the photo will make sense for those who have read the book.
After years away, Eric Loesch returns home to Gerrysburg (NY), the small town where he grew up. Being the private man that he is, Loesch only knows of one place suitable for him to return to: the neglected old house located in a town even smaller than Gerrysburg. Uninhabited for decades, the house needs a lot of work and Loesch sets to it with devotion, meanwhile fascinated with the chunk of land waiting to be discovered. Forrest land that he bought along with the house. His land. Most of it is his anyway. Loesch learns soon enough that a small amount of it is owned by someone else, whose name is blacked out on the official documents. Unable to let a challenge slide, Loesch sets out to uncover what is being hidden… or who.
Lennon immediately captures the foreboding atmosphere; all it takes is reading the first few pages to sense that something lurks beneath the surface and it isn’t pretty. This feeling is not at all eased by our elusive protagonist, who does not really share anything about his plans and what drives him. Loesch is hostile as well as distrustful, and he shuts out everyone he encounters.
Unfortunately, he shuts us out, too.
So much of the first chapters involves a play-by-play of construction work and hiking routes. I feel as though I got to know the interior of the fictional hardware store better than I got to know ‘the guy telling his own story’. (Perhaps my lack of enthusiasm about hiking and construction has something to do with being female; I did experience the book as ‘very masculine’.)
There is a chronic disconnection between narrator and narratee; I kept running into walls that were constantly held up in front of our protagonist. Consequently, I found it harder to continue because Loesch, in telling his story, is too formal and void of all emotion, not allowing you to connect with him at all. (And, apart from his sister, all other characters surrounding Loesch seemed unsympathetic, empty of meaning, or downright crazy. Intensely so.)
But eventually, we do learn more about Loesch and I have to say, taking into account that upbringing and personal history both play a big part in the forming of one’s personality, Lennon has really managed to create Loesch accordingly. Considering what Loesch has been through, his personality traits are convincing and understandable, in a way.
Yet, speaking as a person with a master’s in psychology, I can’t help but be skeptical of certain events from his past, much less of the circumstances in which they are revealed to us and to Loesch himself. The story suddenly plunged into a set of complicated and confusing psychological (or psychotic?) events; it was overwhelming and hard to accept.
Now that I’ve finished the novel, I’m still not sure what to make of it, and of its relation to the ending, and vice versa. The ending does, yet at the same time does not, connect to the whole story. (You know how sometimes you read a novel and in the back there’s a “preview to the new novel by… first 10 pages”? That’s the effect Castle’s ending had on me.)
When I was through with the last pages, I kind of found myself wishing Lennon would a) have kept this particular ending out OR b) continued on this foot / included more of this into the initial 200 pages so as to make the connection with the end. The ending as it is now is redundant, or insufficient, depending on your needs.
Nonetheless, the book’s eerie atmosphere was well formed from the get go; the dark, suspenseful mood of the story made me want to finish it. Despite my dislike of Loesch, I was curious and hopeful he would open up. Eventually, some sense of closure is offered.
Castle is an unusual thriller about a man in a strange situation… an odd story, oddly told.
R&R series (and its photos, reviews) © Karin Elizabeth 2008-2009
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2010 and beyond.