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The kids are (not) all right

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Courstesy of Simon & Schuster Courstesy of Simon & Schuster


The Children's Home' offers unconventional horror
The best horror fiction is that which embraces and exploits the unknown. Too often, writers take the easy path, filling their pages with moments that, while scary enough, aren't particularly surprising. Many times, the frights tend to be familiar ones.

Charles Lambert takes the road less traveled in 'The Children's Home' (Scribner, $24), an unsettling and subtle book that tells a tale of isolation and explores the true terror inherent to feelings of abandonment, offering a disconcerting look at just how drastic an impact disconnection can have.


Morgan Fletcher lives an isolated life. He is an heir to a massive fortune, though his understanding of just how that fortune came to pass is limited. He is also horribly disfigured thanks to a tragedy in his younger days. He rattles around inside his familial estate, sorting through the libraries of his forbears and interacting only with his housekeeper. He avoids reflection in all of its forms.

Everything starts to change when Moira and David show up.

These two children appear as if out of nowhere, apparently hoping to be taken in. Morgan invites the children into his home and accepts them into his life. Before long, more and more children start to appear, their origins just as mysterious as the first two.

Into this tangled web comes Dr. Crane, a local physician called in to care for one of the sick children. Far from being repulsed by Morgan's disfigurement, he is drawn to the lonely recluse and gradually becomes a friend one as fascinated by these precocious children as Morgan is.

As time passes, the children's behavior becomes more erratic and eerie. They have insights and wisdom beyond their brief years; in their exploration of Morgan's house, they make some bizarre and unsettling discoveries. These discoveries lead Morgan and Dr. Crane down a shadowy path snarled with mystery and mysticism.

The children are seeking something, you see and Morgan is the one who can help them find it.

One hesitates to use the term muddled as a compliment, but 'The Children's Home' feels muddled in the best possible way. Lambert does an exceptional job in amplifying the general creepiness of the narrative through a sense of precise ambiguity. The overall murkiness, far from being a distraction, actually enhances the reading experience. Basically, we the readers are often as confused as Morgan himself; that confusion allows all sorts of shadows to spill into the story.

Lambert dwells in those shadows, luxuriating in the depth of cover that they provide him. The leisurely pace of the narrative is punctuated by well-executed feints, yet even those drastic shifts play out smoothly. Calling something a 'page-turner' is a bit of a clich, but there's no better way to describe the 'just one more chapter' compulsion that this book elicits.

Morgan Fletcher is as unreliable a narrator as they come, a sad and broken man who can't help but suffer the effects of his lengthy isolation. His untrustworthiness with regards to the events going on around him adds yet another layer of intrigue to a tale already rife with unpredictable possibilities.
'The Children's Home' is the best kind of ghost story one that scares, one that surprises and one that you simply can't stop reading.

Last modified on Friday, 08 January 2016 10:19

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