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Disappearance at Devil's Rock: A Novel Hardcover – June 21, 2016
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From the Publisher
Paul Tremblay talks with Michael Koryta
Michael Koryta is the author of Rise The Dark (on sale 8/16/16).
MK: I absolutely loved Disappearance At Devil's Rock, and central to that was how beautifully shocking the final act was, featuring a revelation that was both stunning and logical. Did you work toward that ending from the start, or begin with the opening scenario and no known destination?
PT: Thank you, Michael. I started with a vague notion of a teenager mysteriously disappearing from a local state park and didn't know where it would go from there. I knew that I wanted to take a realistic approach to the teen's disappearance and introduce a sense of maybe-supernatural uncertainty, dread, and melancholy that would hopefully accumulate as the novel progressed. I then spent a month outlining, guessing, and eventually figuring out what may or may not have happened to Tommy Sanderson.
MK: The emotional ache of absence is present here in so many layers. Did that drain you at times, to go so deeply and honestly into the hearts of these characters?
PT: It was a bit emotionally tiring to be honest and by the end of it I was ready to write a happy, breezy comedy. Shh, don't tell my editor!
To help detach somewhat, I made sure that Tommy Sanderson was a totally different person in my head than any of my loved ones. I also focused not on what I would do in response to the scenarios in the novel, but on what these characters would do or say. That said, it was impossible to not put myself in Elizabeth Sanderson's shoes at times.
MK: Writing from a child's point of view is a tightrope act—and you nailed it. How did you go about achieving such authenticity with those voices?
PT: Besides being a parent of two children who are close to the ages of the kids involved in the novel, I've been a high school math teacher and basketball coach ever since graduate school. I'm generally awash in teen-speak. I pay close attention to what they say and how they say it, the slang and sayings that cycle in and out of style. For the writer-me, teaching is an everyday lesson in teen voices and a window to their emotional lives, and even how and what they might be thinking/hiding even when they're not saying much.
Also, I still feel like a big kid most of the time. I've always lived according to the seasonal cycles of the school calendar: the joy of summer and depression of September. Being permanently fixed in that kid schedule has warped my brain and I wouldn't have it any other way.
MK: The supernatural is presented here as possibility, an uncertainty, a debate, and individual readers will land in different places with it. I love that, but I wondered if you felt pulled at times to take it more directly toward that or to lean farther back from it? It's a fantastic, haunting result.
PT: I love how you describe the supernatural as possibility. Maybe the supernatural is the stuff in the cracks of things, existing in the in-between places. I try to approach the supernatural element skeptically or realistically, meaning that if a supernatural event were to intrude in our real lives, I don't think it would be obvious or instantly recognizable, and it certainly wouldn't be easy to explain, and we'd be hesitant to believe it happened. That doesn't mean it isn’t there though, yeah? With both A Head Full Of Ghosts (my last novel) and Disappearance At Devil's Rock, I wanted to make the most overtly horrific parts of the books the real parts, the "this-could-really-happen" parts, and have what lingers or haunts the reader afterward to be those ambiguities and possibilities.
“Crackling with dark energy and postmodern wit...[this] superb novel evokes the very best in the tradition—from Shirley Jackson to Mark Z. Danielewski and Marisha Pessl—while also feeling fresh and utterly new. Deeply funny and intensely terrifying, it’s a sensory rollercoaster and not to be missed.” (Megan Abbott, author of The Fever and Dare Me)
“Paul Tremblay is an astonishingly talented writer, but even better, he’s twisted, and fun. A Head Full of Ghosts is mind-bending—scary, sad, sweet, funny, sick. ... . Terrifying, hilarious, smart, and satisfying.” (Stewart O'Nan, author of The Speed Queen, The Night Country, and A Prayer for the Dying)
“Tremblay expertly ratchets up the suspense until the tension is almost at its breaking point.” (Kirkus Reviews)
“[B]rilliantly creepy.” (Library Journal)
“The novel is stylishly written and well-conceived.” (Booklist)
“Gripping and truly scary, this book feels of the moment in a way few thrillers do.” (B&N Reads)
“[A] scary story, indeed.” (BookPage)
“A mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising disturbing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.” (Buzzfeed)
“…progressively gripping and suspenseful — (Tremblay’s) ultimate, bloodcurdling revelation is as sickeningly satisfying as it is masterful.” (NPR Books)
“[A] creepy, interesting read, great for horror fans.” (SFRevu)
“Loved it. Highly recommended for anyone who loves engrossing literary horror-undertones of The House of Leaves (but far more accessible) and The Exorcist, and redolent of Shirley Jackson.” (Ellen Datlow)
“Dark, brilliant, and impossible to predict, [this] is more than a perfect horror story. It’s a smart and savage look at American culture in all its madness, and the price girls are forced to pay by a society obsessed with spectacle and sin.” (Cara Hoffman, author of So Much Pretty and Be Safe I Love You)
“A Head Full of Ghosts doesn’t end just because you close the book. Some horror, it bleeds through the pages, gets onto your hands, stays with you. You’ll be thinking about this one long after you’ve read it.” (Stephen Graham Jones, author of Demon Theory and Ledfeather)
“A genuinely scary, post-modern homage to classic horror that invokes Stanley Kubrik and Shirley Jackson in equal measure, but also manages to innovate on nearly every page. [It] is unlike any horror novel you’ve read, and yet hauntingly, frighteningly familiar.” (Sara Gran, author of Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead and Come Closer)
“Part psychological thriller, part demonic possession horror, this book is a juicy, fast-paced genre bombshell that just happens to be one of the smartest novels you’ll read this year.” (The Life Sentence)
“A Head Full of Ghosts is one of the best novels released this year. ...Paul Tremblay confirms what we already knew: he’s one of the greatest horror writers today.” (This is Horror (UK))
“By turns horrifying, very funny, melancholy, ironic and, with each page, dazzlingly original, A Head Full of Ghosts is a one-book rocket ride through contemporary society where, if Evil doesn’t actually exist in a Biblical sense, we’re just the folks to invent it on our own.” (The Day newspaper)
“This will easily be remembered as one of the most powerfully disquieting and deeply unsettling novels of the year, and may mark something of a turning point in the mainstream horror genre.” (Shock Totem)
“Paul Tremblay’s terrific A Head Full of Ghosts generates a haze of an altogether more serious kind: the pleasurable fog of calculated, perfectly balanced ambiguity.” (New York Times Book Review)
From the Back Cover
A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts
“A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare,” raved Stephen King about Paul Tremblay’s previous novel, which received widespread critical acclaim. Now Tremblay returns with another disturbing tale just as powerful and unsettling.
Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her thirteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a nearby state park.
The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her eleven-year-old daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend Tommy’s disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration. Neither the state nor local police have uncovered any leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were the last to see Tommy before he vanished, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out at a landmark they have renamed Devil’s Rock.
Living in an all-too-real nightmare, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a wraithlike apparition of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadowy figure peering through their windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journals begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; the coming zombie “pocketclips”; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connected them all.
As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened become more ominous and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night at Devil’s Rock.
Tremblay deftly blends literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror into an absorbing tale that illuminates a parent’s darkest fears . . . and an adolescent’s darkest secrets. Eerie, thought-provoking, and soul-shattering, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock will haunt you long after Tommy’s final journal entry is read.
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Top Customer Reviews
From the beginning, Tremblay made some stylistic choices which I found at first annoying and then downright irritating. First were the chapter headings, reminiscent of Dickens, which summarize the key events of each chapter, from "Elizabeth and the Call" (Chapter 1) to "Elizabeth Talks to Dave, Dinner for Two, Notifications at Night, a Fight, a Sketch" (Chapter 10) to "Elizabeth and Kate and the House and the Notes" (Chapter 15, the book's last). A fascinating article in The New Yorker on the history of the chapter explains that such headings were originally intended as "finding aids: devices for quickly locating specific material in long texts that were not meant to be read straight through." While this device comes in handy when I read the 800 pages of The Pickwick Papers, I still have sufficient memory skills to handle the 336 pages of Disappearance at Devil's Rock without the author's help.
Second was Tremblay's decision to tell the story of Tommy's disappearance in present tense, with regular flashbacks to earlier events. I suspect the use of present tense was intended to make the reader feel a part of the search for Tommy, but I found it artificial and strangely emotionally distancing.
Third, and most irksome, was Tremblay's innovative (to me, at least) method of conveying dialogue, not with the standard, "Tommy says …" but with the character's name followed by a colon - a quirk which reared its ugly head on page 18 and progressively worsened until Tremblay was writing conversations like this one after Josh spills his drink:
Luis: "You need a straw or a sippy cup?"
Josh: "I'm gonna be all sticky. Bugs will be all over me now."
I felt like I was watching an old pinball machine, as the conversational ball bounced from friend to friend.
I could echo the complaints of other Goodreads reviewers, such as Teri's "repetitive writing"; KC's "boring and unnecessary" dialogue; and Jessica Weil's "wish [that] the pieces of this story came together in a more satisfying way." Instead, I'll simply put down my pencil and go find something better to read.
I received a free copy of Disappearance at Devil's Rock from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.