I’m a little late jumping on the Jeffrey Ford fan-wagon, but I recently read his latest and greatest — The Shadow Year — and have since run out of people I haven’t raved about this book to yet. Picture Long Island in the 70’s (think early Pete & Pete, and then subtract 20 years) — right down to the Mr. Softee ice cream truck that starts out the story. The Shadow Year follows the middle brother in a family of three, through a chrysalis summer and into the next year, navigating growing up with all the trappings of suburbia. Then, a peeping tom starts prowling the neighborhood, the school librarian snaps and takes to wandering around the football field at all hours, and a classmate disappears. The narrator and his older brother, Jim, keep track of these events in “Botch Town,” a model of their ‘hood with clay figures representing their neighbors, friends, family, and sworn school enemies. But when the brothers discover their kid sister, Mary (an eight-year-old who smokes cigarettes behind the bushes in the yard) has a knack for quietly rearranging the figures — changes which are soon reflected in actual events — The Shadow Year takes on an entirely new dimension of foreboding and intensity. These are kids faced with brutal stuff – murder, alcoholism, puberty, a little sister with imaginary friends who pre-dates Miss Cleo, and a possible homicidal maniac on the loose – and Ford is pitch-perfect processing the traumas through the eye of a sixth grader wading the vague waters between childhood and adolescence. With overtones of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides and Tom Perotta’s Little Children for the wide, wonderful scope of conjuring suburbia, The Shadow Year has also been compared to Ray Bradbury, Harper Lee, and Tobias Wolff.
And look at that sweet old car on the cover! For a prize copy of this book, be the first of 3 people to comment on this post. If you like being really thorough, check Library Love Fest’s radio show of Ford discussing The Shadow Year with one of my favorite people, library maven and fellow ice-cream cake enthusiast Virginia Stanley.