Book reviews

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford is a book I chose to read because of the cover. I liked the 1960 Cadillac’s tailfins* and saw the funny side of an author with the surname ‘Ford’ using a picture of a Cadillac.

The Shadow Year is told by an un-named narrator, a sixth-grade school boy, who along with his older brother Jim and younger sister Mary lived in a dysfunctional, although loving family home on Long Island during the 1960s. After going broke, their father worked three jobs so was rarely home. Their mother was an alcoholic who passed out most nights with a volume of Sherlock Holmes stories laid open on her chest. The children’s grandparents lived in an apartment conversion in their garage.

A prowler in their neighbourhood frightened several women before a schoolmate of the children’s mysteriously disappeared, then an elderly neighbour was found dead in a snowdrift. Although they had good reason to fear a predator in their community, instead of asking an adult for assistance the siblings banded together to investigate what was going on.

The children built a replica of their town in their basement which they named Botch Town. When events in the town started mirroring the figurines in Botch Town, as positioned by Mary, the narrator, Jim and Mary unquestioningly accepted and used the model in their search for the predator. There were several other mystical elements in this story which I accepted as the truth while I was reading.

Jim was a typical older brother in that he bullied his brother but did not allow any one else to bully him. Mary’s teachers were unable to determine if she was a genius or simple, although it was apparent that all of the children were extraordinary.

The Shadow Year was often funny. For example, when a schoolmate made a disparaging comment about their teacher, they “all learned an important lesson in how not to laugh no matter how funny something is.”

Or when Nan’s breakfast was described as consisting of a cup of boiling water with half a lemon along with a bowl of prunes, the children’s Pop asked “Why don’t you just use dynamite?”

The chapters were broken into very short chapters, which tell of a single event at a time. This seemed to me to be typical of how I remember my own childhood, as a series of memorable events. The story wasn’t particularly nostalgic, although I enjoyed the 1960s setting very much.

In Jeffrey Ford I hope I have found an author whose work I will enjoy working my way through. The events and the emotions generated in The Shadow Year often felt personal, as if the author had used people he knew along with his own childhood experiences.

*The way the back window curves doesn’t look quite right for a ’60 or ’61 Cadillac. If anyone can tell me for sure what this car is, I’d love to know.

Comments on: "The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford" (13)

  1. Sounds a bit too weird for me but I like the idea of having a mock-up of the town in the basement – imagine the fun you could have tormenting adults! 😀

  2. Oh, I’d make one of my workplace! The photocopier area would become a dangerous place for telling or listening to secrets, the kitchen a safe haven and the sit-to-stand desks overlooking the city the place to be! (Hmmm…I’ve just described my floor exactly as it is, so might have to work on my creativity).

  3. An un-named child narrator and short chapters telling a single event, I like the sound of this, although it does seem quite scary? I wouldn’t have picked up Ford and Cadillac – nice touch!

  4. No, it wasn’t scary at all. The narrator was sometimes frightened but I never felt as if he or his brother or sister were ever in serious danger.
    Those tail fins on the car are fantastic, aren’t they?

  5. This sounds really interesting. I especially like the magical element of the created town mirroring the real town. I’ll have to look for this one.

  6. I hope you enjoy it too, Karissa 🙂
    I enjoy Stephen King’s books so quite liked the magical elements in this story, which were fairly subtle in comparison to King’s.

  7. Oh yes, I could see that. I haven’t read much of King’s work but he definitely uses children characters well and in unsettling ways.

  8. Now that I think about it, some of my favourite Stephen King novels have some very unsettling things happening to children!

  9. Still engaged in your car cover mystery. The curved glass looks more like a 1958, but in that model, the tail lights are below the fins, rather than in them. I suppose there is always that chance that the cover artist didn’t really use a real car… if I remember, though, I’ll have my husband look at when he gets home and see if it strikes a chord! 😀

  10. I know! It just doesn’t look right! I wondered if the artist had gotten creative too, then thought they might have used a real car that had been customised.

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