Saturday, August 29, 2015

Haunting Memories, Haunting Images

Review: Shadows Burned In by Chris Porteau

It is a haunting image that Porteau evokes to explain why houses become haunted: the shadow of a man seared into a wall by the hell-fire blast in Hiroshima.

This is not a book that fits neatly into any one genre. It holds a creepy, haunted feel from the beginning as it uses supernatural-tale tropes to reveal the toll that abuse and neglect imposes on childhood development and later life. Near-future science-fiction comes into the narrative, too, if only to underline how technology does not change the basic human experience. We will not be rescued from our nature by innovative science.

It certainly is not a YA novel, even though Porteau expertly presents both the inner and outer lives of Elizabeth and her father David in his youthful past.

The genre it fits into most comfortably is psychological thrillerbut even then, Porteau has deftly skewed the presentation of the various characters' histories so that we are kept guessing to the end. Is Old Susie's house truly haunted? Is David unavoidably destined to have the same flawed relationship with his daughter Elizabeth as his own father had with him? And will the escaped killer wreak a side-wise vengeance on this haunted family?

The same complex character development we saw from Porteau in his Gettysburg stories, Tales of B-Company (reviewed earlier this month in The Shark Strategy: Move or Die) shines strongly in his debut novel. Because of the skillful weave of genres, the novel's final denouement feels fresh and unexpected, and satisfies the desire for closure.

Best not to expect anything, but just throw yourself open to experience the story. You won't be disappointed.