Receiving the news that her fourteen-year-old son has vanished from the local park, Elizabeth Sanderson tumbles into a desperate attempt to keep her sanity intact while the local and state police uncover nothing that suggests Tommy’s whereabouts. Those that were with him last, Josh and Luis, insist they know very little about that night, but suspicions arise soon enough when torn pages of Tommy’s journal are discovered, seemingly out of nowhere, highlighting some disturbing truths.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
Disappearance at Devil’s Rock was my second sit down with a Tremblay novel, the first being A Head Full of Ghosts, which in the end I ultimately preferred over this one. It’s rare that I don’t absolutely adore a slow burning plot that takes its time to unfold, but I felt the morsels offered throughout just weren’t enough to totally sustain my interest for long periods. Mystery being the priority, it was heavily dependent on dairy entries, flashbacks, as well as interviews; it had a lot going on without anything actually happening, most of the pacing much like running on a treadmill. I acknowledge that it was emotionally effective in that a family was forced to endure a terrible experience – most definitely a cautionary tale for parents – but the overly lengthy and uneventful build up didn’t lend the sort of suspense I expected. It was incredibly easy to predict the details of Tommy’s disappearance from the onset, yet I kept waiting for the big reveal, the wow moment that would blow me away with some impressive display of creativity, however it truly followed Occam’s razor. I can’t say I even particularly liked the characters either; it would’ve been done and dusted in a few pages had they been decent human beings.
Despite implementing supernatural horror elements that I certainly enjoyed for their eerie subtlety, they were few and far between, the focus obviously elsewhere. I can’t deny that I would’ve preferred a little more spooky and a little less adolescent banter pertaining to zombies and Minecraft. Even as someone who recognised the various references mentioned, Tommy’s outdoor antics dragged on without any real purpose, instead a mere demonstration of the kids will be kids sentiment, and let’s face it, kids can be extremely annoying. Yes, there was clear realism in the way they interacted with each other – their own personal slang and group dynamics – but due to very little else going on, it just added to the tedium. One thing I did find interesting, however, was how the group changed when an adult entered the equation. There was an obvious power structure there that Tremblay depicted well, children want to be grown-up and do grown-up things, so you could argue that due to the sheer amount of influence older people have over them, genuine friendships are just about impossible. In this respect Tremblay got me to think, and that’s something I appreciated.
Overall, the book was written in differing formats that constantly shifted from present to past tense, while periodically taking on an almost screenplay-type style – this was especially apparent with its lack of quotation marks and use of chapter headings. I have no idea why this was the case, but I get the impression Tremblay likes to be somewhat experimental with his work, which can either be a hit or a miss for the individual reader. I guess it succeeded in standing out, but it was quite jarring going back and forth, therefore making it difficult to immerse myself.
In conclusion: Disappearance at Devil’s Rock proved to be a slow read that focused on the poignant crisis spurred by a missing teen, the timeline jumping back and forth to unravel the uncertainties while throwing in some ambiguous supernatural elements. There were a few aspects I liked, such as the quiet creepiness, but mostly I slogged through the majority, hoping for more than what was there. The format also struck me as peculiar for a novel, and it didn’t really appeal in the long run; almost disjointed in how frequently it changed styles. I do plan on reading more of Tremblay’s work, regardless of not connecting with this one.
Watching the two of them climb down the rock, Josh knew that Tommy would follow Arnold to the ends of the overworld.
© Red Lace 2020