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.