The Homecoming by Andrew Pyper
Book Review by Shane Douglas Keene
“Where does the path lead after it ends?”
One of the remarkable things about Andrew Pyper is that, like Josh Malerman, his brain is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’ll get–yes I did just use a Forrest Gump reference–but if you’ve read his work to any extent, you damn well know it’ll be something new. When it comes to outside-the-box thinking, you don’t find many minds like his. The only thing his novels The Demonologist, The Damned, and The Only Child have in common is that they have nothing in common other than a mutually shared creator. Conceptually, they are, like the works of the aforementioned Malerman’s work, or that of Caroline Kepnes, beasts from entirely different herds. So it’s safe to say I went into his newest entry, The Homecoming, without a fucking clue what I was getting into, but for what I read of the synopsis. Which is another thing about Andrew’s creations. Like his story threads, his synopses tend to be tantalizingly deceptive, indicative only of the shell and never what type of creature lives within. That is, as it should be, for the reader to determine.
But of course, I’m here to talk about more than just his previous works and their descriptions. Because I read his new one just last week and fucking drowned myself in it. It’s one of those books that yanks you in and pulls you under, a willing captive in the currents of the narrative. And the reason for this is simple. It’s because Andrew Pyper knows what the hell he’s doing, and he knows that a story in motion will drag you in more surely than a dark and stormy night any day of the week. He starts his tale strong and fast with the two main characters, Aaron and Bridge Quinlan, heading toward an uncertain fate in the form of a simple will reading that turns out to be anything but. Taken to a massive estate–think state park sized–that unbeknownst to them their father owned in life, they are informed they must stay within the bounds of the property for thirty days in order to claim their inheritance.
So, yeah, same old fuckng story, right? I mean, what one of us hasn’t read one or a zillion stories about wills and stipulations and haunted houses? By the sounds of it, this must surely be the same sort of fare.
Except it’s not.
Because this is Andrew Pyper I’m talking about here and nothing is ever the same old anything with this guy. The Homecoming is a book that, for want of a better word, redefined itself in my mind every ten chapters, give or take. Going into it, I was convinced I knew exactly what I was getting, and then the first redefinition occurred and I realized I didn’t know shit. In chapter thirteen there’s a game changer. A major deflection, a pinball off a flipper bouncing off a side bumper, but the ball is you and the rubber wall is this exceedingly elastic tale that takes you places you never expected to go. And once you’ve arrived, it makes you think you finally know what this story is really about. Except, no you don’t. Again. Because all along you’re being manipulated by a brilliant mind with a wicked pen. Pyper is the puppet-master and you are his willing marionette, a court jester dancing to his nerve-jangling tune.
And while I can’t say much more about it without spoilers, I will tell you even the backstory is subtly manipulating you. As Pyper builds his characters, which he does with surgical deftness, their various connections, and the deeply protective love that Bridge and Aaron feel for each other, are woven through with threads you won’t know are there until they snap. While the author may have an equal or two, there are few superior to him when it comes to top-shelf storytelling ability, nor is there a more avid student of the human condition. As evidenced by the outright adoration and sympathy you feel for his protagonists, Andrew further demonstrates his hardcore alacrity with people-building by making you feel a little empathy even toward his villains. Terrifying as they are, they too have a history woven throughout the novel, a stream of information that’s as important and defining as that of the good guys, one that literally forms the structure for the entire tale. Without it, this book would crash and burn. With it, this thing is fucking near perfect.
There are many things that either make or break a thing for me and this is a book full of all those that make it but none that break it. For one, the aforementioned character development. And another, one that’s crucial to this particular work, the pacing. The cadence of Andrew Pyper’s sentences is pitch perfect and moves it along at just the right velocity, which is pretty close to light-speed all the way. Even when the characters are all sitting around a room talking, this thing hurls you along, driving you deeper and deeper into the twisted maze of the narrative, one that spits you out the other end feeling drained yet satisfied, like you need to roll over and light a cigarette. Another perfect thing in this volume full of perfect things is the author’s voice. Throughout the entire novel, it’s poetic yet, like Jack Ketchum’s prose, concise in all the places it needs to be, feeding you near perfect, realistic dialogue that tells the vast majority of the story. Andrew Pyper does here what every good author does, staying the fuck out of his own way and letting his characters and their actions narrate this captivating yarn.
And man, do they tell a damn good one. This riveting tale fills you with dread throughout, giving you a pervading sense of despair and fear for the fate of the characters you’re certain to fall in love with. It’s a story that will leave you questioning many things, not least of which is your own identity. When it comes to authors who can be called “great,” there aren’t very many of them, but Andrew Pyper’s one of them, and this book is one of the reasons why. It’s effectiveness with evoking real emotional response is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Beyond being just a straight-up psychological horror novel and, as the title of this review implies, an utter and not so subtle mindfuck, this is just a superb narrative by a master of the written word, one that would stand tall among the literati and still has a grip on my mind and heart a week after finishing it. If you’ve not read the amazing work of the great Andrew Pyper, do yourself a favor and unfuck that. Start here. I dare you to read this book and not seek out all his others.