Monday, May 3, 2010

"Every human interaction was a psychological experiment..."

I opened this novel (Castle, by J. Robert Lennon) fully expecting it to occupy my reading schedule for at least a few days. I finished it in one sitting.

This is a classical psychological horror story with an unsettling, convincing modern twist. Told in straightforward, unadorned prose which disarms against the plot's twisty progression, this is, in part, the story of one man's uneasy confrontation with his past. Eric Loesch- brusque, unsentimental, and not particularly likable- returns to his withering hometown in upstate New York to purchase a heavily forested tract of land. He sets about renovating the property's farmhouse with an obsessed, steely determination. The clinical, almost dispassionate Loesch makes a grimly compelling narrator, and his disciplined manner makes the disquieting events that transpire all the more eerie. In the center of his woods, all but inaccessible to the outside world and completely obscured, Loesch discovers a ruined castle which does not appear to belong to him. Who it does belong to, and what purpose it serves, remains dubious.

As the novel unfolds, Loesch is forced to peel back the layers on his murky past, yet as the story becomes increasingly urgent, each new development widens the scope until it's almost impossible not to feel implicated. The book picks up, toward the end, genuinely unsettling political overtones, but it never once feels like a parable or a morality play. Lennon's subtle, insidious portrayal of one man's tragic confidence in authority is never belabored. The slow but fevered way in which truths are revealed builds to a nearly hallucinogenic conclusion, and the sense of malaise which creeps under the reader's skin lodges there for a good long while. A deft, unnerving work, and a great possibility for an adventurous book club.



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