Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Changeling (Review): A Genre-Defying Modern Fairy Tale

There are novels that defy easy categorization...and then there's The Changeling, by Victor Lavalle. This novel is nuts, in the best possible way. It's basically a modern fairy tale about how our parents either mess us up or send us out adequately prepared to deal with the world. That's a massive oversimplification for this massively entertaining novel, but it's the gist.

It starts mundanely enough — with a boy meets girl story. Apollo Kagwa, New Yorker, meets, falls in love with, and marries, a librarian named Emma. Soon, they have a child — delivered on a subway train during a power outage (a near-mythological birth!)— they name Brian, after Apollo's father. This is odd, though, because Apollo's father abandoned he and his mother when Apollo was four. But he left behind a children's picture book he used to read to Apollo depicting a fairy tale where a child is stolen by a goblin. This is foreshadowing at its finest.

Emma and Apollo begin having marital problems which culminate in....boy, you just have to read this to find out what happens. Suffice it to say, their baby disappears, and Apollo spends the rest of the novel — an odyssey through New York City, to a mysterious island inhabited by women and finally to the only forest in New York City, a park in Queens — trying to find his child and his wife.

This novel is so cleverly written, incorporating tropes from myths (I mean, dude's name is Apollo, for one), to fairy tales (bread crumbs, evil parents, etc.), to even Biblical themes (which of course, depending on your own beliefs, may actually just be myth as well). But this is novel thoroughly modern — there's bits here cautioning about privacy issues with social media, specifically, and the potential dangers of technology, generally. These parts are a nice juxtaposition with Apollo's profession of used book dealer. Indeed, it's through his job — selling a first-edition, signed To Kill A Mockingbird — that he meets the mysterious William, who becomes a major part of what happens.

As things get weirder and Apollo is less and less sure about everything he thought he knew about reality, the novel gets increasingly violent as well. Apollo is sort of tested to the lengths of his own humanity. What will he be willing to do to save his child?

I loved this book - it's really unlike anything I've ever read. It didn't garner too much attention when it was published last June, but it's showed up on several "Underrated Books of the Year" lists, including this one from Bookstr. If you want to read something wholly unique, check out this terrific book!


  1. I'm always looking for books that are truly unique-as much as I read it can be harder and harder to find, especially fantasy novels, which seem to be exceedingly prone to following a pattern. I'll definitely have to check this out.

    And if you are looking for other fantasy novels that break the mold, I'd suggest the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin. Really different, unlike anything I've ever read before, with a really interesting narrative structure.

  2. This sounds like such an interesting book. I'm imagining it to be creepy, whimsical, mystical, a The Goldfinch sort of way. Would be amazing as an audiobook I think!