The Changeling
February 9, 2022 11:40 AM - Subscribe

A modern take on the changeling legends from Victor LaValle, the author of the Hugo-nominated Ballad of Black Tom.

From the author's site:

When Apollo Kagwa's father disappeared, all he left his son were strange recurring dreams and a box of books stamped with the word IMPROBABILIA. Now Apollo is a father himself—and as he and his wife, Emma, are settling into their new lives as parents, exhaustion and anxiety start to take their toll. Apollo's old dreams return and Emma begins acting odd.
posted by mark k (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A spoiler free first comment:

I really liked this and zipped through it. I love LaValle's writing here, and this one does a masterful job intertwining the fear, love, disappointment, betrayal and devotion of parents and children. Legitimately scary at times, without being too bleak. I probably would skip this one if I were a new parent though. It's a modern take, and social media and toxic masculinity are woven into the story.

There are supernatural elements but as with many good books in this genre, the main suspense comes from the grounding in the recognizable everyday world.
posted by mark k at 11:46 AM on February 9, 2022 [4 favorites]

I read this a couple years ago, so my thoughts at this point are too vague to be worth expounding on, but (1) this book was good creepy and I recommend it and (2) I love the cover art, it is a gorgeous, creepy match for the story.
posted by the primroses were over at 5:00 PM on February 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

I never saw the cover art because i borrowed it as an ebook from the library. Thanks for posting it!
posted by moonmilk at 5:26 PM on February 9, 2022 [1 favorite]

A massively spoilery comment so I can talk about some parts I liked:

Keeping the amount of uncertainty so high was really well done. The whole backstory with Apollo's father definitely felt like it was headed towards a supernatural resolution. I had no clue that he would turn out to have attempted a murder/suicide; so of course that started making his mother feel untrustworthy too. Emma was impossible to decipher--I mean, the book is called "The Changeling" but she obviously had a complete breakdown. Then Patrice and Emma's sister had bits revealed that made them untrustworthy--my brain kept looking for anyone trustworthy for Apollo to have backing his up, and as a result the Kinder Garten reveal was really scary--since he'd seemed a disarmingly nice guy rising to the challenge up to that point. This sort of can't-trust-our-own-eyes is central to the changeling myth and keeping the reader off balance is so effective to get us in the right mindset.

But when it all does resolve, we find there were people, even most people, were trying to help each other out after all. It felt like such a relief to learn that.

The other thing I admired about the Kinder Garten arc was how he was the mundane explanation for a lot of supernatural-seeming activity (like the vanishing e-mails and mysterious pictures) which gave him a frightening menace; he was scary even caged up on the island, when the women are being attacked. But in the end, totally mortal and killed by a clumsy hit over the head. A lesser book would have had a drawn out fight to take him down, but Kinder Garten was, in the end, nothing. A deadly malicious nothing, but that's all.
posted by mark k at 11:55 AM on February 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

[spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers spoilers]

I looooooved the first part of this book: the new parent madness, the used book shop, the love story, the dreams, the creepy things starting to happen, the build-up, the BLAMMO!!! burst of violence that ends that first arc.

And then it was still pretty awesome, Apollo trying to find the ground in his blasted-open universe, and the strange shit building and building, those hints about his own childhood, the weird untrustworthiness of everyone around him.

But the resolution - the whole final arc - made me want to throw the book into the fire. I honestly think I've never read a book that's been so promising at the start and then let me down this badly. ARGH! I am so pissed off!

That Norwegian troll? Might as well have been an evil tap dancing goat, or actual Martians, or Donald Trump. That's how senseless and random it was. What happened at the end of this book was, like, the mirror image of deus ex machina: the writer conjures up a random evil entity out of nowhere, which has no physical, situational, cultural, relational, symbolic, or thematic connection with anything else that came before in the book, to serve as the villain behind it all. A fucking troll, I ask you. What??

Imagine if, at the end of The Exorcist, Father Whatshisface shows up to perform his exorcism on Regan, and it turns out that the evil entity possessing that little girl is.... Saruman from the Lord of the Rings! Surprise! Put away the rosary and Bible, Father Whatshisface, and borrow a hammer from Regan's mother to smash the Palantir hidden under her bed. And Regan, instead of doing unmentionable things with a crucifix, she pulls Theoden's reverse-ageing trick. THE END.

Tell me: wouldn't that make you want to throttle whoever wrote this? The biggest bummer is precisely that what came before is so freaking good. I wouldn't care this much if I hadn't fallen in love with the book.
posted by MiraK at 1:17 PM on February 11, 2022

Author Kristin Cashore wrote a really thoughtful piece about this book.
posted by tangosnail at 7:16 AM on February 15, 2022

I kept not knowing where this book was going. Or more accurately, I kept thinking I knew where it was going and I kept being wrong. And the same is true for Apollo. He keeps suddenly discovering that he's been wrong. Who Apollo takes seriously, who gets ignored, and who Apollo should be listening to. I love LaValle’s ability to shift between the mundane joys and evils, and the eldritch ethereal magical fairy tale. From Apollo navigating what being a husband and father means and Emma glowing in the woods to the whiplash of turning over the rock of Kinder Garten and finding a red pilled incel straight out of chan culture and this bullshit.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:16 PM on April 6

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