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The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

The Shadow Year (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Jeffrey Ford (Author)

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2623143,510 (3.9)27
Title:The Shadow Year
Authors:Jeffrey Ford (Author)
Info:William Morrow Paperbacks (2009), Edition: Reprint, 289 pages
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Tags:Jackson winner 08, horror - ghosts, Horror17, setting - New York, period - 1960s, locations - small towns

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The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford (2008)



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A boy growing up in the a small Long Island town in the 1960s discovers that a serial killer is stalking his neighborhood.

This is a quirky coming-of-age story with a nostalgic small-town feel and an undercurrent of the sinister, as well as the supernatural. Ford is great with characters, especially the dysfunctional but still affectionate family of the unnamed narrator. The narrator has a hobby of writing little stories about his neighbors, and we get to know them and their eccentricities that way. He and his older brother have also recreated their neighborhood in their basement, a model made out of junk called Botch Town, where their odd younger sister moves the figures in a way that eerily predicts real-life events. The story is a mix of short vignettes about a pivotal year in the boy's life and the ongoing plot of the siblings' efforts to catch Mr. White, a creepy man in a white car who they suspect is murdering people. They have the help of an older neighborhood kid who moved away but mysteriously reappeared. Mixed in are nostalgic stories with a realistic edge: the horrors of middle school; dealing with an alcoholic, depressed mother; the antics of a Halloween night; an exuberant Christmas party; rambling through the nearby woods. There is an epilogue that feels tacked on and probably wasn't necessary, but otherwise this is a little gem of a book. ( )
1 vote sturlington | May 21, 2017 |
My Halloween pick for 2016. Ford creates a dark and menacing atmosphere all the while eliciting nostalgia for a small town childhood. I was captivated by this book. It is so well written. Great story! ( )
  cjservis | Oct 19, 2016 |
I can't believe how quickly I read this. I honestly expected three or four days of picking it up and putting it down when a bright distraction went by, but once I picked it up I'll be damned if anything other than an earthquake was going to interrupt. It's not as if it's a fast 'n' furious thriller. It's a slow, atmospheric tale of a strange year as seen from the point of view of a young boy in a small American town, which is practically a genre of its own. Every other Stephen King book, Ray Bradbury, Rober R McCammon's Boy's Life and the late great Graham Joyce's Tooth Fairy did one in England. What has to happen is that the young protagonist has to be in the cusp of leaving childhood behind and as the fog of innocence fades and the other fog of hormones rises to take its place, strange things emerge from the murk. Unreal, half-real, surreal. In The Shadow Year, it's a long white car driven by a man in a white coat. It's people dying and disappearing. It's the model town in the basement and the eerie correspondences between the little figures moved by little sister Mary and the people in the real town above. It's a hundred other things, some strange, some banal, and the whole year exerts a strange fascination over the reader and draws them in as the town reveals its secrets but somehow every secret seems to make it more strange and mysterious, a thing constructed from faded dreams and memories. Wonderful prose paints the place and the people and then tilts them all slightly askew. Compulsively readable. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
4.5 stars
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

The Shadow Year is a charming coming-of-age tale about the 6th grade year of an average American boy (we never learn his name) growing up in the 1960s. This year isn’t average, though, because there are some strange things going on in his small town. As he navigates his way around mundane matters such as an alcoholic manic depressive mother, a father who holds down three jobs, live-in grandparents, and unpleasant teachers, he’s also concerned with a prowler, a classmate who disappeared, and a strange suspicious man who drives an eerie white car. Things get really creepy when he realizes that the weird things happening around town seem to be linked to the way his possibly-autistic / possibly-savant little sister moves the cars and people around in his older brother’s replica of their town which he works on in their basement.

The Shadow Year feels more like mainstream fiction — it’s mostly about coming of age, family relationships, and living in a small town. Except for the wonder at Mary’s abilities, the supernatural elements are down-played and don’t become obvious until the end. The novel reminds me very much of A Christmas Story — that classic movie about Ralphie who wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas ("You'll shoot your eye out!"). Similarly, Jeffrey Ford fills his story with over-the-top characters who are fun to read about but who you’re glad you don’t live with and who you have a hard time believing could all co-exist in the same small town.

Also similarly, most of the plot revolves around the day to day events in a 6th grade boy’s life: waiting for the ice cream man, trying to complete school assignments with a minimal amount of effort, getting picked on by older kids, skipping church, sneaking out of the house, and trying to keep up with his brave and reckless older brother. These little slices of life are funny, poignant, and so beautifully and vividly described that they often brought a smile to my face and occasionally brought tears to my eyes. Here’s a passage about the ice cream man:

Occasionally Mel would try to be pleasant, but I think the paper canoe of a hat he wore every day soured him. He also wore a blue bow tie, a white shirt, and white pants. His face was long and crooked, and at times, when the orders came to fast and the kids didn’t have the right change, the bottom half of his face would slowly melt — a sundae abandoned at the curb…. In a voice that came straight from his freezer, he called my sister, Mary, and all the other girls “sweetheart.”

The Shadow Year is worth reading simply for Jeffrey Ford’s excellent imagery and atmosphere, powerful prose, and razor-sharp descriptions of life we can relate to, but it’s also a good mystery with plenty of tension and suspense. The relationship we observe between the boy and his older brother and little sister is truly touching. I have to add, also, that our ability to engage with a character whose name we never know is surprising and indicates Ford’s confidence and courage.

Despite its subject material, The Shadow Year is not a book for kids because of the language and sexual content. I listened to Audible Frontier’s production of The Shadow Year which was read by Kevin T. Collins who has an astonishing range of voices at his command. His excellent narration definitely added to my reading enjoyment and I’ll be looking for his name in the future.

I’m already on to my second Jeffrey Ford novel. He’s now on my list of must-be-read authors. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
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For Jim, Mary, and Dool,
whose love was like a light
in the shadow years
First words
It began in the last days of August, when the leaves of the elm in the front yard had curled into crisp brown tubes and fallen away to litter the lawn.
Through the week I would smell a hint of machine oil here and there, on the cushions of the couch, on a towel in the bathroom, as if he were a ghost leaving vague traces of his presence.
I heard the big pages turn, the fork against the plate, a match being struck, and that's when it happened. There came from outside the house the shrill scream of a woman, so loud it tore the night open wide enough for the Shadow Year to slip out.
"What if he gets lost in there?" I said. ¶ "We'll just have everyone in town flush at the same time, and he'll ride the wave out into the sump behind the baseball field," said Jim.
School started on a day so hot it seemed stolen from the heart of summer.
He was a short guy with a sharp nose and a crew cut so flat you could land a helicopter on it.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061231525, Hardcover)

On New York's Long Island, in the unpredictable decade of the 1960s, a young boy spends much of his free time in the basement of his family's modest home, where he and his brother, Jim, have created Botch Town, a detailed cardboard replica of their community, complete with figurines representing friends and neighbors. Their little sister, Mary, smokes cigarettes, speaks in other voices, inhabits alternate personas . . . and, unbeknownst to her siblings, moves around the inanimate clay residents.

There is a strangeness in the air as disappearances, deaths, spectral sightings, and the arrival of a sinister man in a long white car mark this unforgettable shadow year. But strangest of all is the inescapable fact that all these troubling occurrences directly cor-respond to the changes little Mary has made to the miniature town in their basement.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:33 -0400)

In New York's Long Island, in the unpredictable decade of the 1960's, a young boy laments the approaching close of summer and the advent of sixth grade. Growing up in a household with an overworked father whom he rarely sees, an alcoholic mother who paints wonderful canvases that are never displayed, an older brother who serves as both tormentor and protector, and a younger sister who inhabits her own secret world, the boy takes his amusements where he can find them. Some of his free time is spent in the basement of the family's modest home, where he and his brother, Jim, have created Botch Town, a detailed cardboard replica of their community, complete with clay figurines representing friends and neighbors. And so the time passes with a not-always-reassuring sameness--until the night a prowler is reported stalking the neighborhood.--From publisher description.… (more)

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