Monday, March 7, 2016

THE CHILDREN'S HOME :: Charles Lambert

I'm only a child but already I have understood the wickedness of the world.

I'm writing about Charles Lambert's The Children's Home because I finished it a while back and I'm still thinking about it. And I can't figure out how I feel about it. It's weird. Weird can be good. It's creepy, and creepy is often great. I'm just not certain there was enough substance to carry the weight of the creep and the weird to the finish line. The ending fell somewhat flat, and while normally that would irk me to no end, I can't say I didn't enjoy the ride. Despite feeling a bit unfulfilled, I didn't dislike the book. In fact, I actually really liked it. Which might be the weirdest thing of all.

So why did I pick up the book? Hello?! Have you seen this cover? (More on that later, but really, look):

Morgan Fletcher is a shut-in (where and when is anyone's guess), living alone in his family's mansion behind a wall erected during earlier, troubled times (of which we really get  no real description or explanation). Morgan has lived this way, without interaction from the outside world, since a disfiguring childhood incident.

Years later, a woman named Engel shows up to tend to him and the house, an idea Morgan presumes is the brainchild of his estranged sister, Rebecca, since Engel seems to know so much about him. Shortly thereafter, odd kids of all different ages start showing up on the property out of nowhere. Often creepily (as if there's any other way, but still, just to be clear):

One morning, shortly after breakfast, Morgan was standing by the drawing room window and gazing out into the garden when a square of air above the lawn seemed to ripple as though it were silk and a knife had been drawn across it, and a child appeared on the lawn and began to walk towards the house, perfectly confident, it seemed, that she would be received. As she was.

If you are watching and loving the original French version of the television series The Returned (running on Sundance and available through Netflix), then this book is probably your jam. Imagine a bunch of little Victors showing up out of nowhere and inhabiting the mysterious old house of a scarred recluse, disappearing and reappearing seemingly at will, and just when said recluse needs quiet or thinks of them.

So the kids are now part of the house, and they wander around finding weird things, sometimes seriously eerie and bizarre things, things undiscovered even by Morgan, who has lived in the house his entire life. Morgan wonders about the kids, *I* wondered about the kids. There is constant kid-wondering throughout the book:

He knew there was a mystery about these children, and not only in the nature of their arrival, but he pushed the thought aside.

There are times I think they were all together before they came here, whenever they were, wherever that was.

"It's as though they came from the air," he said.

Young David may be creepiest slash best of all. He learns to read and soon enough wants to, and does, teach the others, regardless of their age. Then they start studying Morgan's library. David constantly references something foreboding, something he wants to "be a surprise." He is the source of passages like this:

Why should I have spoken to David? With a sense of fear he couldn't understand, he wondered, And what would David have said? Do I need David's consent before I do things? Who is he? What does he want from me? 

A moan of disappointment rose from the backseat, but David turned round swiftly and hushed them. "He's right. Not yet," he said. "We're still not ready." "Ready for what?" said Morgan. David was normally so patient. But this time he said, "How many times must you ask and not be told before you stop? Why can't you just wait?"

The Doctor shivered as David reached into the pram and gathered something in his arms. The children sighed with pleasure and the Doctor gave a short, involuntary cry, like a bark, which sounded to him as though it had come from someone else, from somewhere close by. David was clutching a severed head to his chest.

Intrigued now, aintcha? Just wait until David starts saying, "The time will come. You'll see."

The the men in the black car show up. OMINOUS. I really had little clue what was going on. I'm still not sure I have a clue what was going on. But the story and the writing were so atmospheric, and the ambiance of menace hung about so wonderfully, and the arc of magical realism was just so funnily bizarre that I'm not sure I mind as much as I would normally.

I marked a ton of passages and still enjoy them so much I can't narrow them down to quote a few here. As I read each one for this review, I thought, "Oh yeah, that was great, but what in the ever-loving hell WAS IT and how do I explain it?" There is an ending, though I'm not sure what exactly it was. I'm not selling this very well, am I? I'm not sure I should be. And yet it was kind of awesome, and I want someone to read this and tell me that they don't get it either but they liked it as much as I did. So, someone get on that, eh?

STREET SENSE: I'm not even sure what to say here, other than I read this book several weeks ago and it is still the cause of curiosity for me. I have enjoyed reading over the passages and being reminded of the feelings I had when I read it. Confusion, angst, anticipation, more confusion. If you like atmospheric, creepy reads, get on this one. Then explain it to me.

A FAVORITE PASSAGE: He imagined himself the dirty secret at the heart of the world, the overlooked madwoman raving in the attic of a house that occupied everything there was, each brick and pane and board, the wondering prince in the hair-filled mask of iron he had dreamt of as a boy and never been able to forget.

COVER NERD SAYS:  I was sold from the cover of this one before I knew the first thing about the plot (which is about the same as I know now - bazinga!). I can't even really describe how much and why I love this cover. It's so evocative of danger and violence, yet also artistic and beautiful. A mix of natural and man-made with a hint of devastation rolled in. It also reminds me of this picture I took of some burned bushes near my house, which were both ugly in their burned devastation and beautiful where the burnt ashy skin had broken and the new red surface was showing through. I think I'd best go before you all find out I'm as weird as this book.

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About Malcolm Avenue Review

I was lucky enough to be born and raised in a nifty, oak-shaded ranch house on Malcolm Avenue, a wide-laned residential street with little through traffic, located amid the foothills of Northern California. It was on that street and in that house I learned most of my adolescent life lessons, and many grown-up ones to boot. Malcolm Avenue was "home" for more than thirty years.

It was on Malcolm Avenue, through and with my family and the other families that made up our neighborhood of characters, that I first learned about and gained an appreciation for the things I continue to love the most to this day: music, animals, photography, sports, television/movies and, of course, books.

I owe a debt of gratitude to that life on Malcolm Avenue. It gave me a sense of community and friendship, support and adventure. For better and worse, life on that street likely had the biggest impact on the person I've become. So this blog, and the things I write here, are all, at their base level, a little bit of a love letter to Malcolm Avenue.


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