Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: "The Man From Primrose Lane" by James Renner

There is a point halfway into James Renner’s debut novel The Man from Primrose Lane that is the most audacious change a novel has ever undertaken. It comes without warning and without any clues that come up beforehand (at least direct clues). To be honest, when it came about, my first reaction was anger. It unfairly and maliciously pulled the rug out from under me in a way that made everything that came before it less impactful and honestly, less of a mystery. I am sure less patient readers than me will immediately put the book down, deem it “crap” and move on without any more notice. But I soldiered on, a bit confused and wondering how it will connect. And I am glad to say that it connects beautifully, with only a little of the books power lost. It begins as a thrilling crime story involving ruthless killers, a damaged lead and the kind of weird mystery that you will only find in a place like the Midwest. But after that, it becomes something a bit more and something I totally didn’t except. This is most definitely the most inventive novel I have read not just in this year, but also in the past few years, even more so than any thing David Mitchell would write. With him, the esoteric nature of his stories is expected, here, it is like a swift push into something otherworldly, that makes you think a bit differently about obsession and it longer lasting effects. The story is wickedly plotted, centering on a broken true crime author named David Neff, who lives in Akron, Ohio. After the success of his first book, which not only ended the death penalty in Ohio, but also made him a lot of enemies in law enforcement, his beautiful wife Elizabeth commits suicide. One day, fours years later, his agent tells him about The Man From Primrose Lane, which David wrote about early in his career. He was one of those local urban legends that are talked about in tight-knit communities. He was a man who lived alone, without friends or relatives, and was always seen walking around town wearing mittens, even in the summertime. Around the time of Elizabeth’s death, he was also killed, in a rather gruesome fashion involving the severing of his fingers. David agrees to this assignment, and travels down a dark rabbit hole where the other side is filled with truly evil people and other impossible things you can’t begin to imagine. To retain the true power of this book’s revelation, I will not spoil it for, so I will talk around it. The scenes in this book can be unsettling, reminding me of a mix between Jack Ketchum and Scott Heim, including one scene involving a “practicing pederast” that really upset me, but intrigued me as well. But when the twist occurs, it is very hard to see this book as anything more than a daring dive into the unknown, where desire and love are tools that can go way beyond what we think their capacities are.

Rating: 5/5

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