The Changeling

The Changeling is Victor LaValle's version of the marshmallow test: forgo the quick thrill of a mass-market mystery/horror and be patient as the author genially paces you through 120 pages of buildup, and you'll receive the kind of shock that fairy tales are made of.

LaValle's (The Ecstatic, The Ballad of Black Tom) fourth novel is about Apollo Kagwa, a rare book dealer in New York City. He's the son of a Ugandan immigrant who disappeared when Apollo was young. Life is going pretty well for him--beautiful wife, new baby, signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird--until it's most definitely, terrifyingly not. When the baby is killed and his wife disappears, Apollo must venture out in an increasingly unreal landscape--forgotten islands in the East River, a cemetery on Long Island--to find answers, if not justice.

Part of the horror and joy of this book is in the turns it takes, lowering the reader by degrees into its strange and pressurized world. Readers are hereby encouraged to jump in with little foreknowledge.

LaValle is clearly in his element exploring the strange worlds that exist at the peripheries of his beloved New York. His brisk tempo and friendly tone are like a Grimms' tale, masking subcutaneous menace. The twists never betray the story logic, which is as much about navigating the shoals of adulthood as it is about losing parents.

Strange, exuberant and haunting, The Changeling taps into the anxieties of fatherhood and revels in the layers of a city. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

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