Book Review: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay. Also, What I’ve Been Doing.

Hi, I’m Tim and this is Fence Grade Smoke.

Hello! It’s been too long. Let’s catch up, shall we?

What has been aiding my recovery from writer’s block is likely the most obvious solution: reading. I’m not the most voracious reader, but as Stephen King has remarked in his memoir On Writing, and I’m paraphrasing here, “If you want to be a writer, read. Read, then read some more.” In the last few months I’ve sank my teeth into some incredible novels and discovered authors that I never would have otherwise by using my trusty friend Google and the local library. Through these works I’ve stretched my literary muscles and opened my perspective to complex facets of the human condition.

Take, for instance, Mysterious Skin by Scott Heim. I had watched the film adaptation multiple times, and have become a huge fan of the soundtrack, composed by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie. I turn on this forty-three minute album of nostalgic, melancholy, ambient treasure every night as I fall asleep, and have done so for the last couple of years, never growing tired of the beautiful and yet haunting symphony of sound.

Naturally I was curious to read the book that the film is based on and my god, that was an experience. The story, centered around two teenage boys, follows them independently as one comes to terms with his homosexuality by compartmentalizing the sexual abuse he suffered as a child and romanticizing the acts. The other teen struggles to piece together his own past, stuck on a night when he was eight years old and woke up in a crawl space having lost hours of his life, chalking it up to an alien abduction incident. There was so much soul in this book, and while it was deeply disturbing at parts, the language was enticing and sucked me into the lives of these troubled teens.

Needless to say the novel sparked a fire in me to sink into other works, and I’ve compiled a small pile of novels that I’ve read since leaving the characters of Mysterious Skin behind. One novel I read stood out like Skin, because it legitimately frightened me and also captured my imagination in a way that no book had since House of Leaves (by Mark Z. Danielewski).

Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts is a horror novel that focuses on the life of a woman named Merry as she recounts the events that surrounded the apparent demonic possession of her fourteen year old sister Marjorie when she, herself, was eight years old. Most of the events were televised and recreated in a reality show, which helps Merry untangle her own twisted memories from reality. I won’t go much more into it, but all I can say is…bravo, Mr. Tremblay. There were so many twists and turns in the novel that I felt thrown for a loop as I reached the end, literally gasping at the final revelations of Merry’s story. I cannot recommend that novel enough. I really believed I would not find a novel as compelling as Ghosts for a while after I put it down.

Luckily, I didn’t have to look too far.

Tremblay’s follow up novel, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, like Ghosts, has been haunting me since I finished it (which was only about twenty-four hours ago, but still). This novel is about the disappearance of thirteen year old Tommy Sanderson, who vanished one night when he and his two friends were playing in the woods. As the story unravels we discover more about Tommy, his friends, a mysterious stranger named Arnold, and the impact that his disappearance has on the lives of his immediate family (mother, sister, and grandmother) and those of his friends, who try to hold onto their own secrets before all is revealed in one shocking conclusion. That may sound hyperbolic but I’m not being cheeky, I was floored by the grand reveal.

Again, I can’t go too deeply into the novel, but if you’re a fan or have seen the Australian horror/true crime mockumentary film Lake Mungo (2008), then you’re in for a real treat. Even if you haven’t seen the film (which is NOT directly related to Tremblay’s novel, aside from its similar story beats and allusions), read this book. I’ll admit that the book didn’t really “click” for me until I realized that it was a love letter/its own take on Mungo. But even if I had never seen Mungo, it still would have been just as intriguing. Both focus on a paranormal phenomenon that is honestly becoming one of my most beloved (and feared) myths, but I can’t say more.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately. Fighting writer’s block head on with literature, and I will admit, writing some new material that I hope to publish soon (professionally, or on here exclusively). I hope that you all are doing well, and I look forward to connecting with you more. Fence Grade Smoke will balloon someday, but until then, I appreciate every “like” that these posts receive from my humble audience.

And with that, I’m going to back to books.

Until next time.

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