Book Review : Paul Tremblay - Disappearance at Devil's Rock (2016)
Scaring people is like making them laugh. It's kind of a science, but you either "get" it or you don't. Not every storyteller can elicit visceral, involuntary reactions from their audience. American author Paul Tremblay has gotten quite good at scaring people over time and his previous novel A Head Full of Ghost famously earned the praise of Stephen King himself on Twitter. When Tremblay announced Disappearance at Devil's Rock, everybody wanted to know if he could do it again. Differently. Could he possibly improve on a novel that was praised by the king of horror himself? It's a tough question to answer because Disappearance at Devil's Rock is an utterly different animal from its predecessor.
The novel opens on a phone call every parent dread to receive: Elizabeth's son Tommy has disappeared in a local park. He ran into the woods and vanished without leaving a trace. Elizabeth is trying to face the drama the best she can along with her mother and her daughter Kate, but the case is getting more mysterious by the day and keeps confronting Elizabeth to her painful past. When Tommy seem to materialize in her bedroom, pages from his diary start to randomly appear in the house and another protagonist turns up trough Tommy's journal entries, Elizabeth's woes take an unexpectedly abstract turn.
The domestic drama of Elizabeth Sanderson is a major component of Disappearance at Devil's Rock. Paul Tremblay is an atmospheric author and spends several pages describing the doubt, anxiety and looming pain of a parent facing the crushing ordeal of a child's disappearance. It can feel overbearing at times and I thought some chapters could've used a trim/broader scope but Tremblay also is a big picture guy and the deeper you get into Disappearance at Devil's Rock, the more details start adding up together and creating a picture you simply didn't have the perspective to see in the beginning. It's a novel that works with you if you work with it.
Now, what exactly makes Disappearance at Devil's Rock a scary novel? It works a little bit like an internet urban legend you'd read on a Geocities website at 4 in the morning. Parts of it sound boringly real, other like a silly campfire story and at some point, it gets your gears going and has you filling the gaps in between its two realms. There's a clear dropping point in the second half of Disappearance at Devil's Rock where the folklore reaches into the real and got me bellowing "HOLY SHIT" in the break room at work. Readers live for moments like this and there is a great one Disappearance at Devil's Rock that adds a sturdy solidifying narrative layer on an otherwise compounded story.
I really liked Disappearance at Devil's Rock. It's has a realistic foundation, but borrows from local folklore and urban legends enough to find a comfortable space between dramatic realism and horror. Paul Tremblay understands that what makes monsters scary is that they're born from the human mind and once you "get" that and you "get" how to pry open reality with that concept, it's a lifetime passport to Terror City. Disappearance at Devil's Rock may not have the disturbing imagery of A Head Full of Ghosts, but it's another, subtler and quieter kind of thrill that coils around your neck like a piano wire. Paul Tremblay can scare you a hundred different ways and there's nothing you can do about it except joining the cult.