The Changeling, LaValle Rothdas book review RSS
2.0 Stars

A modern fairy tale that warns of the dangers of the sunk cost fallacy. When the protagonist's baby is stolen by goblins, the smart play would be to just take the L and move on, maybe pop out another one in a bit. Instead the protagonist begins a quest to get back his kid, launching him into a dangerous world of witches, magic, trolls, and Norwegians. Hmmm, I might be making this sound more exciting than it actually is. The book is very baby focused, and very into parenting and fatherhood and such. So if you think it is compelling to read about childbirth, raising a 6 month year old, the relation of child raising to social media, or the napping of a kid, you might like this. If on the other hand you have broken free of the chains of traditional values, attachment, and meaning, you might find the book an extended exercise in silliness. It's also slightly heavy-handed with its wokeness. And at the same time it leans into the wokeness, the book promotes another prejudice, the prejudice against people who don't have sufficient/correct furniture and interior design. This is a bias I have struggled against my entire adult life, that some large part of the American population immediately goes from "does not have correct furniture/tchotchkes" ---> "must be a serial killer". Which is just hurtful and usually untrue. Other quibbles: There is no way that an urban park is that empty. No way at all. I'm a connoisseur of urban and near urban parks, and you will either have A) tons of cops or B) tons of homeless people. Out of all the magic and monsters in the book, this was the part that really broke my suspension of disbelief. Also, while I'm quibbling with the story, I'm really not sure why it was the guy who needed to apologize to his wife for not believing that their child was a changeling and needed to be killed. Like, that's a pretty big ask. Also, I feel like maybe she should have apologized for chaining him up, beating his head in with a hammer, and leaving him to die in a fire. That seems like it should have been mentioned at some point.

One the plus side, the writing itself was fine, and occasionally quite good. I liked the bit about the Tab, and I liked several bits and pieces of the world and characters that rang true to life. Also, this book caused me to look up the author's other work, and several of them look quite good, in that the premise of them is immediately interesting. So maybe this so-so book is a spur to finding other works by LaValle that I would like?

Anddddd, back to down sides again. We now enter the part of the review which is informed by GoodReads, where an astute reader commented that it seemed like the author had 3 novellas and tried to jam them together into a single novel. Which seems correct; you have the family history and baby raising novella, then the disaster and baby loss novella, and finally the tour through magical New York novella. And the different elements did not really blend well. Sometimes a novel can do great work with an abrupt tonal shift, and make it feel like the metaphorical floor just fell out from under the reader (e.g. Fritz Leiber's _Lady of Darkness_, Iris Murdoch's _The Time of the Angels_). In this case though the book just seemed muddled. In addition to the different novellas, it mixes themes of classic Greek Myth, Nordic Myth, modern parenting, the relation of technology to parenting, the downsides and invasiveness of social media/technology, as well as changing gender relations for good measure. It's just a bit too much and it never seemed to cohere into an artistic whole.