Angry Robot, 10/29/13
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
“This childhood nightmare never went away…” In 1971, four boys walked into a jungle. Only three came back alive. They blamed what happened on a mythical monster, but no-one believed them. Forty years later, the truth is finally coming out…Journalist, Nate Mason, is one of the survivors. Haunted by memories he doesn’t fully understand, he returns to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia to unravel the tragic events of his childhood. Back then, as the son of a diplomat, Nate was part of an elite social circle. This included the island’s “royal family”, the De Villiers, who owned a decaying mansion deep in the jungle, staffed by the descendants of slaves. It was here, during a weekend of whispered childhood secrets and dares, that Nate’s innocence was torn apart. But Nate’s not the only one obsessed with the demons in his past. Within hours of arriving back on the island, he becomes convinced he’s being followed. But even though he soon realizes he’s risking his sanity as well as his life, he can’t stop himself from searching for the answers he came here to find. Can childhood nightmares haunt you for the rest of your life? How much do you need to believe in a monster for it to become real? The Clearing is a dark and atmospheric psychological thriller, full of intrigue, terror and superstition, which examines our deep fear of the unknown.
In The Clearing by Dan Newman chapters alternate between three different times in Nate Mason's life, the past, recent past and present day. In the past, 1976, he was a twelve year old boy playing with his friends, Tristan, Pip, and Richard, on the island of St. Lucia. The boys went into the jungle to play but only three of them came out alive. The youngest, 10 year old Richard, was left behind, dead. In the recent past we learn of a more contemporary tragedy in Nate's life. The current chapters deal with Nate going back to St. Lucia, trying to come to terms with what happened in 1976 and in the recent past.
In 1976 it seemed clear that the monster, the bolum, may have been responsible for many of the bad events. Even in the present there is some kind of black magic/voodoo trailing along Nate's path, out to get him. In fact, even other heartbreaking events in Nate's past may be somehow traced back to that tragic day in 1976. Once Nate steps foot on the island it seems something or someone is systematically trying to harm him.
While Newman is certainly a competent writer technically, The Clearing seemed circuitous in the delivery. There seemed to be too much information in the back story that Newman wanted to share which made the delivery of the story a bit ponderous to get through all the meandering at times. It starts out strong and then lags until almost half way at which point it picks up only to slow down again. I think this might have been solved to some degree if more of the back story was told in those chapters and some of the superfluous details were pared out. In the end the novel felt uneven to me, not really terrifying, and the ending was a bit anticlimactic.
Newman excels at his descriptions of island life and capturing the dialect of the natives in the text. He does manage to set an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue. You will also care about what happens to Nate. Although a comparison to Stand by Me isn't warranted, this is certainly a novel for this time of year.
Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Angry Robot via Netgalley for review purposes.