DarkEcho Horror
deccoclock by Rick Berry
Book Review

The Snowman's Children
Carroll & Graf/ 324 pages/ $24
ISBN 0786710829

There is a nameless space that lies somewhere on humankind's emotional landscape between the delicious thrill of scary games and deep unmitigated horror. Within it dwells our fascination with the unknown and the unknowable, our curiosity about the monster and the monstrous, our belief in the shadows some call "evil," and our last certainties we can overcome it. It is a place of suspended breath, heightened vision and utter blindness, where the only sound is the relentless pounding of our racing hearts. Cover

It's a difficult feeling for a writer to convey, but Glen Hirshberg not only delivers it, he makes it the impelling force of his remarkable debut novel The Snowman's Children. The result is a work of disquieting beauty and indelible dread.

It's 1994 and Mattie Rhodes has returned to suburban Detroit on his 28th birthday to unravel the traumatic mystery of his childhood. Nothing about his current life is quite right. He dwells in the sort of profound discontent that allows one to live but never to completely have a life. His trip is an effort to sort out and set straight everything that was shattered when he was eleven.

Detroit remains "[d]ark and snowy and industrial and ruined." It is a place of failure and neglect, deserted by the vital forces that give a city life. With trepidation, Mattie begins his quest to find childhood friends Spencer Franklin and Theresa Daughrety. All three were "gifted" and all three were geeky freaks: Theresa, haunted by her mother's death and devoured by her father's devotion to assuring her genius; Franklin, singularly black in the suburbs and from "real Detroit"; and weird, creative Mattie.

The story, narrated by Mattie, moves back and forth between Mattie's 1994 quest for himself and his childhood. The magical summer of 1976 was followed by the fall when Mattie and Theresa met Spencer. Then came the snowy, terrifying winter when an unusual serial killer, the Snowman, preyed on the children of the "safe" suburb. During the present-day winter Mattie begins to make contact with his childhood friends. First he meets with the relatively "normal" cheerful, athletic, accident-prone Jon Goblin. Then he discovers Spencer, an ex-junkie who has found God and now does his best to protect the innocent and save the troubled. But enigmatic Theresa, who Mattie and Spencer tried desperately to save from oblivion that long ago winter, has seemingly disappeared. We begin to realize Theresa is more than just a missing puzzle piece. She's the puzzle itself. Without her, Mattie may not be able to sort out the winter when they became the Snowman's children. Without taxonomy of his past, Mattie may never have a future.

Part of growing up is discovering that the adults who are supposed to protect you from the monsters or at least rescue you from their clutches, are not superheroes. Their meager defenses -- reminders to run away if approached by a stranger, signs in "safe house" windows, the police -- are never enough to protect you from even the identifiable monsters. Another part of growing up is discovering there are monsters who aren't so easily named; that there may be monsters -- like madness and loneliness -- that really can not be fought. For children who are especially blessed or damned, there's also the realization that monstrosity -- personal and societal -- lives within us all -- right along with what heroics we do possess.

"Childhood," Hirshberg writes, "becomes myth for every single person who survives it." The Snowman's Children explores one of those myths and -- like all lasting myths -- conveys deeper truths. A haunting, accomplished novel The Snowman's Children is one of the best of 2002 and Glen Hirshberg is a dazzlingly talented writer. -- Cemetery Dance #44

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Copyright © 2003 Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.