Book: “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” by Paul Tremblay
Publishing Info: William Morrow, June 2016
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her fourteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.
The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend his disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration. The local and state police haven’t uncovered any leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were with Tommy last, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock— rumored to be cursed.
Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their own windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connected them all and changes everything.
As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened becomes more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.
Review: So the other night, the moment finished “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, I closed the book, set it on my night stand, and thought to myself
I knew that I would need to ruminate on it for a little bit and let it stew. Its interesting, because Tremblay’s other book I’ve read, “A Head Full Of Ghosts”, seemed pretty straight forward and clear cut to me. I devoured that one, made an opinion, and called it a day, even though I know that others contest my theory about it (my friend Hillary in particular). But with “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” I found myself filled with questions. After going back and not only thinking about it, but re-reading parts of it as well, I have made up my mind about this book: I greatly enjoyed it. Part of that enjoyment comes from the fact that there isn’t really any clarity as to what really happened. We have about as much knowledge as the characters in this book, cobbled together from diary entries, hearsay, unreliable witness statements, and local legends and rumors. The big question is what happened to Tommy Sanderson? Is it supernatural, or just a regular, worldly evil? Tremblay is great at making you question the things that you read in his books, and boy was I questioning everything.
I first want to talk about the family that is holding out hope for Tommy. Tremblay writes the horror a parent feels when their child is missing in an honest and empathetic way, as Elizabeth is at times both completely panicked and anxiety driven, to numb and almost subdued. She has her moments of doubting everyone around her, even her other child, Kate, and wondering if anyone is being one hundred percent honest with her and what they know. It doesn’t help matters that she is convinced that she saw a vision of Tommy in his room after his disappearance, a shadowy shape crouched down and looking distorted. She feels his presence, she sees him, she smells him, but questions if it’s Tommy, or a ghost, or an omen, or merely her faculties starting to fall apart. This isn’t the first horrific loss that the family has experienced, as the family patriarch left them and then was killed in a drunk driving accident, which raises more questions about Tommy as well. Is this something that has haunted him and affected him for all these years? Is this a trauma that he never really recovered from, and that has altered his state of emotional being? Is this why he’s obsessed with zombies and disaster? Elizabeth’s inability to know and the fact that it is driving her mad is so heartbreaking, but so real. It’s also very hard to read about how it’s all affecting Kate, her other child and Tommy’s little sister. Kate is also hurting and scared, but has this twelve year old girl need to be tough and a supportive, so much so that she makes some very bad decisions when she thinks that she is taking care of her Mom. Seeing the role reversal of a child caring for a parent in this way is always so sad, and Elizabeth and Kate are just another well done example of this dichotomy. I really liked Kate and how Tremblay wrote her, complications and all.
The only insight we get into Tommy’s state of mind is through a frenzied journal, and what his friends and loved ones say about him. His friends portray him as just one of the gang, part of a group that is still having their long summer adventures a la “Stand By Me” or “The Goonies”. But Tremblay slowly reveals that maybe this isn’t the case, and that maybe even their perceptions and depictions of him, even beyond the secrets they are keeping, aren’t quite true either. Those around him only see him through the lenses of a mother, a little sister, and his pals, until the strange and upsetting diary is found. And even that is unclear as to what is the truth and what isn’t. I think that by making Tommy so mysterious, even when so much of him is laid out in the open, is what makes this book all the more scary, and all the more tragic. The one thing that is clear from all of the misdirection and false fronts is that Tommy is lost in more ways than one, and seeing it all written out and pieced together was incredibly heartbreaking. He is searching for someone to really understand him, and unfortunately a rather cryptic and strange character realizes this, and decides to take advantage of it. In this way, the horror of the story is far more real than ghosts, or devils, or other things that go bump in the night. It became evident that, even though perhaps there are strange and supernatural things afoot, the real scary thing is that sometimes we don’t really know those that we care about the most, and if they disappear we will be left with a huge, gaping hole that is filled with far too many questions. And we ultimately may not be able to protect them from those who want to take advantage of them.
And since this is a horror book, and since Tremblay is a damn fine horror writer, I need to talk about the creepy and weird shit that goes down. I already have an abject fear of waking up in the night to see a strange shadow person in the window or in the corner of my room, so whenever this part of the story happened shivers ran up my spine. Shadow people are present in many different kinds of folklore, and the way that they were described in this book was so effective and upsetting that I still feel a bit disturbed by it, a few days after finishing it. I like that Tremblay gives different explanations, from mass hysteria to the Third Man Phenomenon to just plain out supernatural terror. There is one scene written out in transcript form, that describes a Shadow Being combined with a bit of Uncanny horror to top it off, and I was practically shaking I was so tense. I don’t want to give anything away, but my God, it was so unsettling that it’s really sticking with me. Ultimately, the concept of shadow figures and shadow doubles could be a metaphor for other things, or it could just be a flat out creepy entity to instill fear into the reader. But it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that it scared the hell out of me, as unless it were a “Parent Trap” kind of situation I think that the thought of running into a Shadow Double or Doppelganger is just the very worst. Ugh. Thanks, Mr. Tremblay, for freaking me the hell out in that regard.
I was left super disturbed by “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock”, and though it took a bit to build up and terrify me, terrify me it did. Paul Tremblay has continued to prove himself to be one of the best horror writers out there at the moment, filling his stories with scares and also a lot of emotions. And a whole lot of ambiguity, which I have accepted and come to really, really appreciate. If you read it at night, don’t do it by a window.
Rating 8: A slow burn horror story that is both terrifying and tragic, this newest book from the fabulous Paul Tremblay is another true winner. Ambiguity abound, but that can be the best thing about a horror story.
Since “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” is still fairly new, it isn’t on many Goodreads Lists at the moment. However, with the themes it has, I would say look at “Popular Missing Persons Books” and “Popular Coming of Age Books”. And hey, if you have Netflix, give “Stranger Things” a try because MAN are they similar in a lot of ways (and I mean that it absolutely the best way possible)!
Find “Disappearance at Devil’s Rock” at your library using WorldCat!