In my long standing tradition of judging a book by the cover, I grabbed this book based on both title AND cover. The premise sounded interesting: a dark fairy tale take on postpartum depression. In the end, I found a trippy book full of all kinds of weirdness that was more than the sum of its parts.
The protagonist, Apollo, is the child of a Ugandan refugee and a New York parole officer. Raised by a single mother after his father disappears, Apollo becomes interested in books when he begins selling used magazines to his neighbors for pocket money. Eventually, he finds himself with his own freelance rare book selling business and a librarian wife named Emma.
Haunted by the disappearance of his own father, Apollo throws his all into raising his new son, Brian, whom he named after him. Obsessed with being the father he never had, Apollo posts endless photos of the baby on the internet and befriends the “new dads” at the playground. Emma, however, begins to withdraw from their child just as Apollo bonds with him. Initially assuming that new motherhood and sleep deprivation are to blame, Apollo soon discovers that her apathy towards the baby goes beyond that.
Lavalle’s story is a horror story, mystery, and family drama wrapped up in a folk tale. It reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s novels, particularly “American Gods”. The language is very lyrical and the characters are all just on the edge of mythical.
The novel is a modern exploration of what it is like to be a parent. Lavalle builds a world where all of the vulnerability and anxiety of raising a child are more than just feelings. They are actual monsters that can tear families apart.