This book was painful. I’ve been hearing about Joy Williams frequently in my MFA and she shows up in almost every single faculty presentation. So I decided I should see what all the hype is about and I finally bit the bullet with “The Changeling”…I like Irish Fairy stories…I’m writing a novel threaded around the Changeling idea…it was just reprinted and has a pretty high star rating on Goodreads.
This felt a lot like “Catcher in the Rye.” There was decent prose, there was an underlying arc of potentially important societal arguments, but mostly there was confusion and zero conclusion. I get that classic literature isn’t always supposed to be entertaining, and that we’re supposed to struggle through its themes for the larger picture; classic literature takes work. But this book goes a little too far.
I literally had no idea what was going on at any given time. The story centers around Pearl, a woman who starts out not all that in touch with reality before the wacky sh*t starts taking place, so I found her arc into possible madness less of an arc and more of a lateral skip. Pearl gets married to some dude who’s not important to the story, finds out he’s boring, so she decides to go shoplift at the local mall where she’s caught by some superbly handsome man named Walter who takes her to a motel, f*cks her, and then says he has to take her to his private island off the coast of Maine because they’re married now.….seems legit.
After a few years on this island surrounded by a family that just seems to adopt children and then lets them run Lord of the Flies style all over the island, Pearl has Walter’s baby and decides she finally needs some normalcy for her kid. So she hops a plane to Florida, where she’s immediately found by Walter, and he puts them on a plane going back to the island. The plane crashes, Walter dies, but she and the baby survive. She goes back to the island and proceeds to spend the next seven years drunk out of her mind. Oh, and she thinks her son, Sam, died in the plane crash and was replaced by some sort of animal/demon who can change the other children into monsters.
This is a love it or hate it book. Goodreads waxes lovingly about the amazing prose and profound storytelling and how this book just ‘spoke’ to them. This book did not speak to me. This book did not respect my time. I wasted three days of my life reading about a drunk who no one cared about enough to send to AA. There was not a likable character in the bunch, and I found it far too confusing to find any social nuance or timeless nugget to pass on to the next generation.
I even went so far as to search for academic reviews, possible close-readings, or summaries of this book because I was so sure I missed something incredibly profound that maybe was right under my nose, and I was just too dumb to see it. There’s nothing….nothing that redeems this book or unlocks its ‘profound secrets.’
Unless you enjoy books that feel like an acid trip, I’d suggest staying away.