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A Good and Happy Child: A Novelby Justin Evans
Synopses & Reviews
Thirty-year-old George Davies can't bring himself to hold his newborn son. After months of accepting his lame excuses and strange behavior, his wife has had enough. She demands that he see a therapist, and George, desperate to save his unraveling marriage and redeem himself as a father and husband, reluctantly agrees.
As he delves into his childhood memories, he begins to recall things he hasn't thought of in twenty years. Events, people, and strange situations come rushing back. The odd, rambling letters his father sent home before he died. The jovial mother who started dating too soon after his father's death. A boy who appeared one night when George was lonely, then told him secrets he didn't want to know. How no one believed this new friend was real and that he was responsible for the bad things that were happening.
Terrified by all that he has forgotten, George struggles to remember what really happened in the months following his father's death. Were his ominous visions and erratic behavior the product of a grief-stricken child's overactive imagination (a perfectly natural reaction to the trauma of loss, as his mother insisted)? Or were his father's colleagues, who blamed a darker, more malevolent force, right to look to the supernatural as a means to end George's suffering? Twenty years later, George still does not know. But when a mysterious murder is revealed, remembering the past becomes the only way George can protect himself — and his young family.
A psychological thriller in the tradition of Donna Tartt's The Secret History — with shades of The Exorcist — the smart and suspenseful A Good and Happy Child leaves you questioning the things you remember and frightened of the things you've forgotten.
"This stunning novel marks the debut of a serious talent. Evans manages to take a familiar concept — the young child haunted by a demon invisible to others — and infuse it with psychological depth and riveting suspense. The setting alternates between George Davies's difficult childhood in Preston, Va., a small college town, after his father Paul's untimely death, and his equally challenging life as an adult and new father in New York City. Ostracized by his classmates and emotionally isolated by his mother, a struggling academic, young George begins to be visited by a doppelganger, who, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, intimates that foul play was involved in Paul's death. When those visitations lead to violence, George begins receiving psychiatric treatment. Meanwhile, some of his late father's colleagues claim that demonic possession is a reality. Evans subtly evokes terror and anxiety with effective understatement. The intelligence and humanity of this thriller should help launch it onto bestseller lists." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"With 'A Good and Happy Child,' Justin Evans has written a novel that will scare even the most hardened horror fans out of their skins. He also has delivered a book that is, for the most part, beautifully written and perfectly structured. The result is a literary thriller of the first order. Initially, one suspects that the story will cover familiar ground. George Davies, a 30-something... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) professional living in New York, experiences an irrational terror of his newborn son. Yet this novel is much more than 'The Omen' for the latte generation, and Evans cleverly subverts expectations at every turn. Through George's account of his therapy sessions — and a series of increasingly disturbing notebook entries that detail past events — the reader discovers that it is not so much the child who is possessed as the narrator himself. When George was 11, he was taking a shower when he looked up from soaping his tummy to see a strange face staring back at him. 'I knew what I was seeing was impossible,' Evans writes. 'In retrospect I could say my brain went off the rails; I felt a sickening lurch as my senses heaved out of their tracks, and I trembled despite the fact that I was standing in a hot shower. I felt myself teeter.' After the initial shock, George forms an odd friendship with this shadowy presence that offers him an alternative hyper-reality, but over the course of the next few months things take a nasty turn. Henry James, in his preface to 'The Turn of the Screw,' wrote of his desire to create ghosts that had the power to change the present, 'causing the situation to reek with the air of Evil.' And so it is with Evans' demon, an unpleasant mix of Peter Pan, Huckleberry Finn and Damien. Yet part of Evans' skill in telling this particularly sinister tale is the extent to which, at least in its first half, most of the events could be interpreted as symptoms of psychopathology. George's possession may be nothing more than a projection of his own unhappiness. After all, the intelligent and sensitive boy has had to endure the unexplained death of his father, the sudden appearance of his mother's new partner and a spell of bullying at school. However, as the story progresses, there's no doubt as to the nature of evil that grips George in its clammy hands. Evans is so good at nail-biting narrative that it's tempting to race through the book to discover the fate of George and his infant son. However, to do so would be to miss the stylistic delights of the novel, images that leave a peculiarly nasty aftertaste. The possessed are 'vivisected by evil'; the noise of a violent physical beating is compared with the repeated thwack of a mallet against a veal cutlet; the demon calling George's name 'circled the bed like a fringe of grubby fingers, prodding and poking for an opening.' When George's mother, during a discussion about her son's deteriorating mental health, utters the word 'maybe' — in reference to the fact that she doesn't believe his problem will resolve itself without medical intervention — the 'word hung in the air for a few moments; it was like watching a particularly beautiful bubble rise on a gust of wind.' Indeed, part of the book's power lies in the way in which it plays with the idea of ambiguity — the murky area between reality and perception, science and religion, normality and madness. If one can, take the advice of one of the book's characters, who tells 11-year-old George, 'Festina lente' (hurry slowly). Henry James, master stylist, couldn't have put it better himself." Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, whose e-mail address is mondaythrillers(at symbol)aol.comAndrew Wilson, whose most recent novel is 'The Lying Tongue', Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"This is an edgy, compelling read — more unnerving than scary — that will slide its hooks deep inside and throttle you more than a few times before it's all over." Booklist
"This debut novel grips readers from the first chapter....Evans delivers a creepy and entertaining story full of perfectly written characters." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"Evans seems less concerned with things going bump in the night than in possible bumps to the head....Relating his otherworldly suspense story with the cool, calm eye of a skeptic, Evans makes the propulsive final chapter all the more horrifying. (Grade: A-)" Entertainment Weekly
"[A] dazzling debut." Chicago Tribune
"A scary, grown-up ghost story that combines Southern gothic with more than a twist of The Exorcist." Portland Tribune
"Think Rosemary's Baby-plus...told in the kind of prose that mesmerizes, sweeping the reader along so fast that there's no time to ask questions. Evans knows how to make us believe." Harford Courant
"A psychological thriller that keeps the reader on edge until the last page....A haunting story of guilt, denial and the possibility of demonic possession." Kirkus Reviews
"A first novel about which there is a justified buzz, its entertaining malevolence reminiscent of another fat first book, Donna Tartt's The Secret History." Houston Chronicle
"Evans has written a novel that will scare even the most hardened horror fans out of their skins. He also has delivered a book that is, for the most part, beautifully written and perfectly structured. The result is a literary thriller of the first order." The Washington Post Book World
"[Evans] raises questions that normally lay slumbering behind doors, which self-styled educated people rarely if ever open, and the disturbing awakening makes this debut all the more impressive. A Good and Happy Child is a fine and memorable opener." BookReporter.com
A darkly suspenseful literary thriller with the eerie heart of a ghost story, Evans's debut novel delves into 30-year-old George Davies's childhood memories to reveal ominous visions and mysteries that have been long suppressed.
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