The Shadow Year

The Shadow Year

4.6 6
by Jeffrey Ford

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In New York's Long Island, in the unpredictable decade of the 1960s, a young boy laments the approaching close of summer and the advent of sixth grade. Growing up in a household with an overworked father whom he rarely sees, an alcoholic mother who paints wonderful canvases that are never displayed, an older brother who serves as both tormentor and protector, and a


In New York's Long Island, in the unpredictable decade of the 1960s, a young boy laments the approaching close of summer and the advent of sixth grade. Growing up in a household with an overworked father whom he rarely sees, an alcoholic mother who paints wonderful canvases that are never displayed, an older brother who serves as both tormentor and protector, and a younger sister who inhabits her own secret world, the boy takes his amusements where he can find them. Some of his free time is spent in the basement of the family's modest home, where he and his brother, Jim, have created Botch Town, a detailed cardboard replica of their community, complete with clay figurines representing friends and neighbors. And so the time passes with a not-always-reassuring sameness—until the night a prowler is reported stalking the neighborhood.

Appointing themselves ad hoc investigators, the brothers set out to aid the police—while their little sister, Mary, smokes cigarettes, speaks in other voices, inhabits alternate personas . . . and, unbeknownst to her older siblings, moves around the inanimate residents of Botch Town. But ensuing events add a shadowy cast to the boys' night games: disappearances, deaths, and spectral sightings capped off by the arrival of a sinister man in a long white car trawling the neighborhood after dark. Strangest of all is the inescapable fact that every one of these troubling occurrences seems to correspond directly to the changes little Mary has made to the miniature town in the basement.

Not since Ray Bradbury's classic Dandelion Wine has a novel so richly evoked the dark magic of small-town boyhood. At once a hypnotically compelling mystery, a masterful re-creation of a unique time and place, a celebration of youth, and a poignant and disquieting portrait of home and family—all balancing on a razor's edge separating reality from the unsettlingly remarkable—The Shadow Year is a monumental new work from one of contemporary fiction's most fearless and inventive artists.

Editorial Reviews

Dennis Drabelle
The kids cope with adult fecklessness by playing pranks and collaborating on an alternate world: Botch Town, their homemade variation on Plasticville or a Lionel train village. Kept in the family's basement and populated by clay models of neighbors, friends and enemies, Botch Town is a kind of running soap opera produced by the unnamed narrator's older brother, Jim, with occasional and spooky help from their younger sister, Mary…Ford does so many things well. He makes the drunken mother not just another lush (she likes to believe she reads herself to sleep rather than passing out on the sofa each night, and the kids often place an open book on her lap after she nods off). And he gets across that one of the most unsettling things happening to this family is that the kids are beginning to pull apart from one another, that Botch Town will not be a joint project much longer. Doomed though it may be, Botch Town is one of the most enthralling places I've visited in a long time.
—The Washington Post
Alison McCulloch
Ford travels deep into the wild country that is childhood in this novel—part mystery, part fantasy—about a struggling family on Long Island in the 1960s…Ford's attention is always on the kids, keeping their alcoholic mother and workaholic father largely at a distance. But the observations and adventures of these sharp, wayward children provide more than enough depth to be satisfying.
—The New York Times
Pittsburgh Press
A masterly literary adventure that is at once a hypnotically compelling mystery and a stunningly evocative portrait of small-town adolescence, from an author who is "a talent to be reckoned with".

Publishers Weekly

In Edgar-winner Ford's disappointing sixth novel, the narrator-a nameless boy growing up on suburban Long Island in the mid-1960s-spends what remains of his summer vacation roaming the neighborhood with his older brother, Jim. At home, money is tight, forcing their father to work three jobs while their mother drinks herself to sleep every night. A prowler may be loose on the streets, and the narrator and Jim see a menacing man in a white car lurking near their house and school. When a local boy disappears soon after school starts, the narrator and Jim are sure "Mr. White" is responsible. They turn to their younger sister, Mary, for help, after she mysteriously moves figurines in the boys' model town, reflecting events before they've occurred. The stage is set for suspense, yet Ford (The Girl in the Glass) deflates it at every opportunity with his unresolved subplots. Instead of building to a thrilling climax, the story peters out and loose ends are either forgotten or tied up too neatly. (Mar.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Strange things are happening in a small Long Island community-a child disappears, a large, white car no one recognizes is seen creeping around, there's a smell of pipe smoke at odd times, and a Peeping Tom is scaring women at night. When the narrator, an introspective sixth-grade boy who likes detective stories, and his older brother decide to track the culprit, they set up a model of their town in the basement only to discover that their younger sister is predicting future events by moving the figures around. Edgar Award-winning author Ford (Girl in the Glass ) perfectly captures life in small-town America in 1960, when the harsh realities of urban life-murder, child abduction, alcoholism, latchkey children-began affecting families like the narrator's. Spooky and hypnotic, this thoroughly enjoyable page-turner may remind some readers of Robert McCammon's Boy's Life , which evokes a similar nostalgic feel of the time period along with a corresponding mystery element to resolve. Recommended for all public libraries.-Kellie Gillespie, City of Mesa Lib., AZ

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From Edgar-winner Ford (for The Girl in the Glass, 2005), a tale about three kids, a small town and the banality of evil. The narrator is a sixth grader who has an older brother and a younger sister. They have an absentee father who works three jobs and an alcoholic mother. Were it not for the fact that they love each other-though none of them ever speak the word-it would be a family hell-bent on dysfunction. Still, for the most part, they've been able to consider themselves ordinary, until the night of the scream, the "shrill scream of a woman, so loud it tore the night open wide." And so begins the Shadow Year, a year dark with every possibility of violence and loss. Enter the prowler, a tall, thin man with expressionless, skeletal features, white hair, dressed, at every sighting, in a long white coat. People vanish. Shy, awkward little Charlie Edison is the first, and other disappearances follow. There are harrowing confrontations, brushes with death, a brief alliance with a ghostly presence. In their basement the children have constructed a clay and cardboard replica of their local community, its neighborhoods and citizenry, complete with a representation of their elusive nemesis. It's a town in flux, changing inexplicably and mysteriously. The conviction grows among them that by studying their model, they might be able to chart the terrifying progress of the prowler as he goes about the business of selecting targets. And then one day there's every reason to believe it's their own house he's scoping. Properly creepy, but from time to time deliciously funny and heart-breakingly poignant, too. For those of you-and you know who you are-who think the indispensable element for good genrefiction is good writing, this is not to be missed.
“Surreal, unsettling, and more than a little weird. Ford has a rare gift for evoking mood with just a few well-chosen words and for creating living, breathing characters with only a few lines of dialogue.”
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
“Superb, heartbreaking, and masterfully written . . . It’s proof of Jeffrey Ford’s narrative power that, ultimately, the distinction [between real and invented] doesn’t much matter. His made-up world trumps ours.”
Rocky Mountain News
“Think Ray Bradbury’s Green Town stories, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Stephen King’s The Body (made into the film Stand by Me) and you get an idea of the tone of Ford’s latest fine work. Grade: A”
Boston Globe
“Children are the original magic realists. The effects that novelists of a postmodern bent must strive for come naturally to the young, a truth given inventive realization in this wonderful quasi-mystery tale by Jeffrey Ford.”
Louisville Courier Journal
“Jeffrey Ford’s latest triumph, THE SHADOW YEAR, is as haunting as it is humorous…readers will recognize real talent in Ford’s vivid, unerring voice.”
New York Newsday
“We should be grateful that alongside the firm of Updike, Cheever, Ford & Company there exists, in both fiction and film, an American tradition that depicts the suburbs as places of wonder rather than stultification, discovery rather than predictability.”
Louisville Courier Journal on THE SHADOW YEAR
“Jeffrey Ford’s latest triumph, THE SHADOW YEAR, is as haunting as it is humorous…readers will recognize real talent in Ford’s vivid, unerring voice.”
Boston Globe on THE SHADOW YEAR
“Children are the original magic realists. The effects that novelists of a postmodern bent must strive for come naturally to the young, a truth given inventive realization in this wonderful quasi-mystery tale by Jeffrey Ford.”
Jonathan Carroll
“Jeffrey Ford is one of the few writers who uses wonder instead of ink in his pen.”
Nick Gevers
“The Shadow Year captures the totality of a lived period, its actualities and its dreams, its mundane essentials and its odd subjective imperatives; it is a work of episodic beauty and mercurial significance.”

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Read an Excerpt

The Shadow Year
A Novel

By Jeffrey Ford William Morrow
Copyright © 2008
Jeffrey Ford
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-06-123152-0

Chapter One The Eyes

It began in the last days of August, when the leaves of the elm in the front yard had curled into crisp brown tubes and fallen away to litter the lawn. I sat at the curb that afternoon, waiting for Mister Softee to round the bend at the top of Willow Avenue, listening carefully for that mournful knell, each measured ding both a promise of ice cream and a pinprick of remorse. Taking a cast-off leaf into each hand, I made double fists. When I opened my fingers, brown crumbs fell and scattered on the road at my feet. Had I been waiting for the arrival of that strange changeling year, I might have understood the sifting debris to be symbolic of the end of something. Instead I waited for the eyes.

That morning I'd left under a blue sky, walked through the woods and crossed the railroad tracks away from town, where the third rail hummed, lying in wait, like a snake, for an errant ankle. Then along the road by the factory, back behind the grocery, and up and down the streets, I searched for discarded glass bottles in every open garbage can, Dumpster, forgotten corner. I'd found three soda bottles and a half-gallon milk bottle. At the grocery store, I turned them in for the refund and walked away with a quarter.

All summer long, Mister Softee had this contest going. With each purchase of twenty-five cents or more, he gave you a card: On the front was a small portrait of the waffle-faced cream being pictured on the side of the truck. On the back was a piece of a puzzle that when joined with seven other cards made the same exact image of the beckoning soft one, but eight times bigger. I had the blue lapels and red bow tie, the sugar-cone-flesh lips parted in a pure white smile, the exposed towering brain of vanilla, cream-kissed at the top into a pointed swirl, but I didn't have the eyes.

A complete puzzle won you the Special Softee, like Coney Island in a plastic dish-four twirled Softee-loads of cream, chocolate sauce, butterscotch, marshmallow goo, nuts, party-colored sprinkles, raisins, M&M's, shredded coconut, bananas, all topped with a cherry. You couldn't purchase the Special Softee-you had to win it, or so said Mel, who through the years had come to be known simply as Softee. Occasionally Mel would try to be pleasant, but I think the paper canoe of a hat he wore every day soured him. He also wore a blue bow tie, a white shirt, and white pants. His face was long and crooked, and at times, when the orders came too fast and the kids didn't have the right change, the bottom half of his face would slowly melt-a sundae abandoned at the curb. His long ears sprouted tufts of hair as if his skull contained a hedge of it, and the lenses of his glasses had internal flaws like diamonds. In a voice that came straight from his freezer, he called my sister, Mary, and all the other girls "sweetheart."

Earlier in the season, one late afternoon, my brother, Jim, said to me, "You want to see where Softee lives?" We took our bikes. He led me way up Hammond Lane, past the shoe store and the junior high school, up beyond Our Lady of Lourdes. After a half hour of riding, he stopped in front of a small house. As I pulled up, he pointed to the place and said, "Look at that dump."

Softee's truck was parked on a barren plot at the side of the place. I remember ivy and a one-story house, no bigger than a good-size garage. Shingles showed their zebra stripes through fading white. The porch had obviously sustained a meteor shower. There were no lights on inside, and I thought this strange because twilight was mixing in behind the trees.

"Is he sitting in there in the dark?" I asked my brother.

Jim shrugged as he got back on his bike. He rode in big circles around me twice and then shot off down the street, screaming over his shoulder as loud as he could, "Softee sucks!" The ride home was through true night, and he knew that without him I would get lost, so he pedaled as hard as he could.

We had forsaken the jingle bells of Bungalow Bar and Good Humor all summer in an attempt to win Softee's contest. By the end of July, though, each of the kids on the block had at least two near-complete puzzles, but no one had the eyes. I had heard from Tim Sullivan, who lived in the development on the other side of the school field, that the kids over there got fed up one day and rushed the truck, jumped up and swung from the bar that held the rearview mirror, invaded the driver's compartment, all the while yelling, "Give us the eyes! The fuckin' eyes!" When Softee went up front to chase them, Tim's brother Bill leaped up on the sill of the window through which Softee served his customers, leaned into the inner sanctum, unlatched the freezer, and started tossing Italian ices out to the kids standing at the curb.

Softee lost his glasses in the fray, but the hat held on. He screamed, "You little bitches!" at them as they played him back and forth from the driver's area to the serving compartment. In the end, Mel got two big handfuls of cards and tossed them out onto the street. "Like flies on dog shit," said Tim. By the time they'd realized there wasn't a pair of eyes in the bunch, Softee had turned the bell off and was coasting silently around the corner.

I had a theory, though, that day at summer's end when I sat at the curb, waiting. It was my hope that Softee had been holding out on us until the close of the season, and then, in the final days before school started and he quit his route till spring, some kid was going to have bestowed upon him a pair of eyes. I had faith like I never had at church that something special was going to happen that day to me. It did, but it had nothing to do with ice cream. I sat there at the curb, waiting, until the sun started to go down and my mother called me in for dinner. Softee never came again, but as it turned out, we all got the eyes.


Excerpted from The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford Copyright © 2008 by Jeffrey Ford . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Nick Gevers
“The Shadow Year captures the totality of a lived period, its actualities and its dreams, its mundane essentials and its odd subjective imperatives; it is a work of episodic beauty and mercurial significance.”
Jonathan Carroll
“Jeffrey Ford is one of the few writers who uses wonder instead of ink in his pen.”

Meet the Author

Jeffrey Ford is the author of three previous story collections and eight previous novels, including the Edgar® Award-winning The Girl in the Glass and the Shirley Jackson Award-winning The Shadow Year. A former professor of writing and early American literature, Ford now writes full-time in Ohio, where he lives with his wife.

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Shadow Year 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was an intense novel. It really and truly was, and it is elegantly written and well-done. Our narrator is a nameless sixth grader, the middle of three children in a family struggling to get by. This is very much the year he comes of age, where he awakens to the world. Its a story of families and siblings. Its a story where our narrator sees that the world loses it's soft edges and where a boy discovers that safety is an illusion and that everything has teeth. That is WHY its so intense, because it is all too real how the narrator discovers child molestation, death, sex, and the myths that childhood is grounded in. Though your own experiences may not be as intense or similar, we all remember when we started to figure out that our parents can't protect from us everything, that sometimes parents need protecting, and that the world isn't safe. It captures the fears and doubts of that age perfectly. Its set in the lush background of the sixties, in a land without pop culture permeating everything. And in this world where horrors are not quite yet real, it is totally believable when the author weasels in hints of the supernatural. It makes the book more unsettling and increases the intensity. I didn't feel the need to question the paranormal elements, and our narrator feels much the same, because magic is easier to believe when you're young. The writing is strong, very visual. There are only a few stutters, the biggest flaw being the author's assumption that you can totally remember the names of characters mentioned fleetingly one hundred pages ago (especially since so many names sound alike almost everyone's last name starts with an 'H'!). But this is a small flaw, and the only one that really niggled at me. Still, you may need to build your own 'Botch Town' to keep track of who's who! I didn't expect to like this book, the first few pages were a little difficult for me. But I found myself engrossed and unable to put it down halfway through - it was so easy to slip into this world and accept it unquestioningly. I recommend it very strongly for those that like books like 'The Lovely Bones' and who enjoy straight fiction. It may not be as life-altering as that work, but it has a similar feel to it, and it is really thoroughly enjoyable.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In a small town on Long Island in the sixties, a family is going through some tough times. Jim, his brother and their sister watched their father work himself to death doing three jobs and their mother drink her self into a stupor. They escaped to the basement where Jim and his brother built ¿Butch Town¿ a cardboard representation of their neighborhood populated with action figures and match box cars.---------------- Their sis Mary who is in class X in school because they are not sure if she is very bright or simpleminded changes things in ¿Butch Town¿ and those things she alters come true. She removes the figure of a boy and the next day people discover he is missing nobody finds him. A neighbor Mr. Baritzar is found in snow with his neck broken by a snow plow Mary took his figure off the board earlier. The boys believe a stranger ¿Mr. White¿ is behind the disappearances and Mary traces him on Butch town. A former resident now eighteen years old returns to deal with Mr. White and he is willing to help the three siblings.------------- This interesting fiction is an amalgamation of mysticism, imagination and mystery. The twelve-year old narrator keeps a chronicle of the goings on in the town for the year and since the story is told in his first person, readers get into the heart of an adolescent young boy. The atmosphere is gothic in which reality and the supernatural meet to form a book well worth reading.------- Harriet Klausner
Hilly-D-says More than 1 year ago
This book is well written and just draws you in, it's like he's reliving a memory not telling a story. So deatailed the characters leap off the page, the story is interesting and takes you deeper and deeper. I would not call this a thriller but more of a progressive mystery. I just downloaded another one of his books, a fan for life!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Along the flatlands is a large, flower filled prairie. Mainly splashes of purple and yellow, with some blue and red, this is a fun place to go to, as it is very lively.