by Andrew Van Wey
Greywood Bay (2011)
Big brothers can be a pain in the ass sometimes. I ought to know; I am one. As a boy, I had spurts of tormenting my little sister, but at least I never locked her in a trunk until she had a nervous breakdown, which is precisely how this novel begins with young Daniel tricked by his older brother, David, during a game of hide-and-seek.
Daniel Rineheart's quaint, albeit tiresome, family life and professional life are turned upside-down when his former student and lover, Karina, returns from Europe and tries to rekindle their romance, and also a mysterious painting arrives at the California university where he works that he has to investigate its authenticity and worth. As far as creepiness of the artwork goes, this painting feels like it takes the cake with a disparate assembly of images that scratch at Daniel’s brain while he tries to solve its mystery. And no sooner does he take it home in the wake of a fire at the university that strange phenomena begins in his home, and his own behavior takes on a darker tone. His ex-lover Karina is unsettling in her own right as well, with an obsessive nature that makes you wonder when she's going to boil a rabbit.
As things at home become tense, with his daughter's ordeals with starting school and overall emotional distress, relationships with his wife, son, and even his asshole neighbor are driven to a brink. And Karina' own mental illness comes to forebear as she imposes herself on every aspect of his life. A strong spiraling effect is taking place and threatens to tear his life apart, and as the story continues seems to do a pretty effective job of it.
The book is a slow burn, and frankly I had a hard time getting into it. There's a lot done to develop each character, show their flaws and their strengths, and setting the framework for Dan's relationship with his family and with Karina and others. But I felt like it took about half the book to put the wheels in motion for the bigger picture to come into play, and by that time there wasn't much chance for me to get hooked. The first half of the book felt bloated by superfluous dialogue, and the second half by expository blocks crammed in with the action, not unlike some of Stephen King's longer works I've read the last few years--Under the Dome, I'm looking in your direction.
I think if you can wade into the book and keep at it there is a strong story with some powerful imagery to complement it. I just couldn't hack it though, even with an ending that offers a really good full circle moment. I've been conditioned lately to much more streamlined stories, so that's probably a big factor in my disappointment. If you've got the time to invest, along with the patience, you're likely to enjoy this book more than me.