Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Review: 'In the Shape of a Man' by Paul Clayton

Author Paul Clayton has an impressive career as a successful writer. His repertoire is rather vast – Historical books ‘Calling Crow ‘Flight of the Crow’ and ‘Calling Crow Nation’ his trilogy of the Southeast Series, White Seed: The Untold Story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke; ‘White Seed: The Untold Story of Roanoke, a novel about the American War in Vietnam ‘Carl Melcher Goes to Vietnam’; socio-racial dysfunction ‘Van Ripplewink: You Can’t Go Home Again’; Science Fiction/Fantasy ‘Strange Worlds’ and this horror story of contemporary placement ‘In the Shape of a Man’.
Paul’s ability to gel character development in a manner than makes the population of hi stories credible adds to the terror he asserts as he build s this strange story – all the more strange because the settings in which he places the tale feel as real as newsprint.

For example, Paul’s escalation of child abuse is previewed as he opens this story – ‘The San Francisco Bay Area of California, June, 1999… 1015 Skyview Drive - Reynaldo Collins’ eyes opened when he heard the radio alarm go off in his parents’ bedroom. The music went away suddenly. A few moments later came the running of water in the sink. He knew the sounds by heart. Next would come the click of the medicine cabinet, the buzz of the shaver. As Reynaldo lay in bed he realized that the fog was outside. When the fog came and surrounded the house, little sounds seemed louder. He looked around. Gray light seeped into the room from around the edges of the shades on his window. He could see the rectangular shape of his Power Rangers poster on the wall, but could not see the Rangers’ brightly colored outfits or read the words on the poster. Reynaldo heard a door open. He slid out of bed and knelt, pressing his ear to his bedroom door as Daddy passed in the hall. He heard Daddy fill his water bottle at the kitchen sink. The refrigerator opened and shut. A few minutes elapsed and he heard the squeak of the handle on Daddy’s briefcase, then the rattle of the chain lock coming off. The door closed and locked and Reynaldo slipped out of his room. He crept into the living room and parted the curtains slightly, his face curling into a smile. Daddy walked down the drive, fog swirling about him. Daddy opened the van door, then shut it with a hollow metallic clang. The engine started and the van slowly drove off, disappearing like magic into the cloud of fog. As the sound faded, so did the smile on Reynaldo’s face. He heard a sound behind and turned. It was Mommy. “What are you doing out of bed?” “Sorry, Mommy.” “What are you doing out of bed?” “I wanted to see Daddy go to work.” “What did I tell you about getting out of bed before I get up?” “You said that you would put me down in the garage.” And that is only one aspect of this thriller.

Paul’s synopsis serves the plot well – ‘On the border between the necropolis of Colma, home to over two million dead souls and 1,794 somewhat live ones -- and the gritty industrial working-class town of South City --At 1015 Crestview, little seven-year-old Reynaldo cowers under the escalating abuse hurled by an adoptive mother who now sees him as a burden. Allen, a workaholic Silicon Valley techie, seeks relief from domestic conflict by slipping away to sample the sweet brews at McCoy’s, a mysterious pub and Hell’s Angels hangout. Up the street, young adults Rad and Tawny drift between the worlds of skateboarding and community activism, free love and commitment. Sampling Buddhism and squabbling with the relatives, they avoid thinking about the 15-foot Burmese python in their garage. Does evil exist? Is it still with us? How would it manifest in modern life? This genre-bending novel of alienation and betrayal suggests that evil, as well as redemption, can come In the Shape of a Man.’

Few authors are as willing to examine the status of or environment with as keen an eye to possibilities for the future as Paul challenges. Gripping, entertaining, wise and very well written, Paul Clayton has definitely made his mark. Grady Harp, November 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.