Breath of Life

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a parent.

I’ve never wanted kids; even when I was a kid I never wanted to have any. I grew up kind of thinking that at some point I was going to have to have some–my parents still are enormously disappointed that I chose not to parent; just another note at the end of the long list of disappointments I’ve provided for them. It’s not that I don’t like kids; I generally do, and kids like me. It’s the enormous responsibility that always terrified me–the loss of sleep, the endless worrying about money, and so forth. As I’ve gotten older, and have been looking at life from the perspective more of the older parent rather than that of a child…if anything, I’ve become even more certain I shouldn’t be a parent. I am not the best parent in the world to the cats we’ve had, and there’s the matter of that temper I try to keep under control but frustration and irritation–particularly when I am tired–tend to always bring it out in me.

I would be a terrible parent, and have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for anyone who takes on that incredible journey and all of its responsibility.

The weird thing is that I get very emotionally invested in books where parents have a child in danger.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock is a child-in-danger narrative, and it’s a really good one.

Elizabeth is not dreaming. There’s a ringing sound coming from far away, from somewhere else in the house, not the ringing of actual bells but the digital trill of the landline phone. The phone is cordless, cheap, neglected, often left uncharged and to be found, more times than not, wedged beneath the couch cushions alongside pistachio shells, pens, and hair elastics. Elizabeth actively despises the landline;s inefficiency in regard to their everyday lives. The only calls the phone receives are credit card offers, scam vacation prizes, charities and fringe political groups looking for money, and the occasional mass recorded message from the town of Ames broadcasting the closing of school during snowstorms.

When the kids were little, Elizabeth wanted to keep the landline so that they’d be able to dial 911 should “anything bad happen.” That was the phrase she used with her moon-eyed munchkins as she flailed at describing the nebulous and exciting emergency protocol of the Sanderson household. Fast-forward past those early years, which were harder than she would ever admit, and all three Sandersons have smartphones. There’s really no need for the landline anymore. It survives because it is inexplicably cheaper for her to keep hthe phone bundled with her cable and Internet. It’s maddening.

There’s a ringing sound coming from far away, from elsewhere in the house, and not from the cell phone under her pillow. Elizabeth fell asleep waiting for the Star Trek phaser tone that announces a text from her thirteen-going-on-fourteen-year-old son Tommy. A simple text is a nonnegotiable part of the deal when sleeping over at someone else’s house, even Josh’s. She has already seen an evolution, or devolution, of communication from Tommy over the course of the summer reflected in his sleepover texts: In mid-June ut was I’m going to bed now mom, which a few weeks later became night mom, then became night, and then gn, and if Tommy could’ve texted an irritated grunt (his subverbal communication method of the moment, particularly whenever Elizabeth or his eleven-going-on-twelve-year-old sister, Kate, asked him to do something), he would’ve. And now in mid-August, the exact date having changed to August 16 only a collection of minutes ago, there’s no text at all.

(She’s not wrong. We have the same situation with the landline–it’s cheaper to have it bundled with Internet, which makes no sense to me, but I solved the issue by simply throwing the cheap phone away. I may have to have it to get cheaper Internet, but a phone hasn’t been plugged into the landline jack since, oh, around 2014.)

It’s not a spoiler, for the record, to let you know Tommy is missing.

Spending the night over at his best friend Josh’s with the third part of their trio, Luis, the boys sneak some beer and slip into the state park that abuts their town. While hanging out at Split Rock (which the boys call Devil’s Rock), Tommy runs off into the woods and disappears. Josh and Luis frantically search for him, finally give up, and come home….which is when Elizabeth’s nightmare begins.

Later, when she goes to her bedroom, Elizabeth sees a shadow between her armchair and the side table in her bedroom–a shadow that looks like Tommy, but not quite just like Tommy. She then gets a sense that Tommy won’t be coming home, that he is actually dead; much as she doesn’t want to believe it…but strange things are happening all over the town. People are reporting weird shadows peeping into their windows or sneaking through their yards late at night; a satanic panic is starting, and through it all Elizabeth has to hold it together, not just for her own sake, but for her daughter Kate’s….

…and then pages from Tommy’s diary mysteriously start appearing on the carpet in their living room overnight.

The suspense in the book is almost unbearable; I couldn’t put it down once the engine started chugging, but the true strength of the book lies in Tremblay’s gift for creating fully realized characters; all of them, even those who only appear in a scene or two, are completely believable, like people you actually know, and his gift for language usage, sentence and paragraph construction, is exceptional. And as the diary pages slowly begin to reveal the truth about what happened to Tommy…it’s impossible to stop reading, Impossible.

I cannot wait to read another one of his books. I’ve loved the three I’ve read, and now need to read the entire backlist.

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