The Changeling is a horror story, a fairy tale, an epic myth, and a modern, urban fiction. It’s about parenthood, and toxic masculinity, and internet privacy, and a horrific world of magic hiding behind a veneer of civilization, and it’s one of the most New York books I’ve ever read. But most of all it’s about what happens when a Black man is the hero of a fairy story ... LaValle dips into a whole world of story for this book. Myths both Greek and Norse, comics, the Rocky movies, children’s classics, To Kill a Mockingbird—all are put into the blender of his books and characters, and used in unexpected and gorgeous ways ... This is the first book I’ve read in years that engages with age-old myth in a way that feels as vital as [Neil] Gaiman’s best work, but it’s even more alert to the ways race, class, and prejudice can infect every aspect of a person’s life. The Changeling is an instant classic.
What makes this novel so effective is its ability to use genre tropes in a way that doesn’t neglect (or mischaracterize) the race or class or everyday experiences of its protagonists ... In addition to invigorating the naturalist novel by infusing it with horror, LaValle introduces contemporary phone and app technology into his increasingly strange story. That’s been done before...But The Changeling digs deeper, providing subtle commentary about larger issues of computer security, access, and privacy ... Nobody is better at combining daily struggles and the supernatural than LaValle, and in helping us understand the convergences between the 99 percent and the things that go bump in the night. In such a city, fairy-tale endings no longer work. But even if there is no happily ever after here, we can still find a fugitive joy. LaValle’s respect for love and the domestic provides a nice counterpoint to the darkness that threatens to overwhelm these characters, without lessening the threat at the story’s heart.
The book’s title hints at the nature of the catastrophe, but doesn’t fully convey the sheer force of it, the gut-punch shock LaValle delivers to his trusting readers. As his Lovecraftian novella The Ballad of Black Tom showed just a year ago, he’s not timid either about conjuring horrors or about describing the emotions they evoke in their unfortunate victims. His horrors hurt, and keep hurting for a good while after the worst seems to be over ... W. B. Yeats in his youth wrote a changeling poem called 'The Stolen Child,' whose refrain is 'For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.' In New York terms, that sentiment, which underlies everything LaValle writes, translates roughly as 'The rent is too damn high.' The people of The Changeling pay and pay for their fleeting stretches of happiness, weep in the meantime, then pay again, and tell themselves the stories they need to go on. In New York there are monsters (and heroes) on every corner, not outside over there but right here. It’s a hell of a town.
...[a] bewitching masterpiece ... Like a woke Brothers Grimm, his clever new spin on the ages-old changeling myth is a modern fairy tale for the Trump era, taking on fatherhood, parenting, marriage, immigration, race and terrifying loss ... LaValle impressively maintains his storytelling momentum throughout The Changeling as Apollo navigates a wondrous and often disturbing world he never knew existed. He creates a meta level for the reader as well ... As easy as it might be to label things fantastical, LaValle always grounds the most disturbing material in reality, so we feel every moment of Apollo’s rage and sadness. His small victories against the darkness he faces mean more when they come.
...this book is a changeling too, and accomplishes a deft, complex bait-and-switch almost halfway through ... The storytelling gets compressed and decompressed at various points like the air in a bellows, stoking the fire under the story, burning away its disguises and sending it shrieking up the chimney. That unspeakable act of violence feels like it happens in the middle of the book, not at the end of the first act. And that first act has at least five distinct, sequential stories in it. Which is not to say that the book is slow — it's riveting — but trying to hold its shape in my head is like trying to look straight at the Pleiades ... By turns enchanting, infuriating, horrifying, and heartbreaking, The Changeling is never less than completely engaging.
One of the reasons to read Victor LaValle’s novels is the simple sentence-by-sentence pleasure of them — they offer hundreds of baby dopamine hits, tiny baths for the prose snob’s reward system. His imagination is unusually visual. His sensibility is so deadpan that it borders on a kind of derangement ... readers are always struggling to communicate the odd hybridity of LaValle’s work, which blends social criticism with horror with the supernatural, while remaining steadfastly literary. And it’s true: His novels are tough to classify. The difficulty with hybrids, though, is that they’re often more awkward than elegant. You see the exact ridge in the sinew where man becomes beast. The Changeling has some of this gracelessness ... How I wish The Changeling had been more artful in exploring these questions and ideas. I also could have done without the strained allusions to Donald J. Trump, Fox News and the far right, which seem to have blown in from some neighboring land until they finally reveal their connection. But Lavalle’s observations about race remain, as ever, both stinging and mordantly funny.
The combination of Grimm-ish allusion and social commentary might seem pat in the hands of less capable authors, but LaValle executes the trick with style. 'Fairy tales are not for children,' as one character explains. 'They didn't used to be anyway. They were stories peasants told each other around the fire after a long day, not to their kids.' To that end, LaValle has written a story full of things to terrify not children but the parents who lose sleep worrying about how best to protect them.
At once sprawling and intimate ... LaValle has created an enthralling, genuinely surprising novel that is simultaneously contemporary (you’ll never looked at internet trolls the same way again) and timeless, woven of the truths we try to deny, even when facing them head-on.
The style of The Changeling will be familiar to those who enjoy Twin Peaks. In true Lynchian fashion, the story subtly explores the line between reality and unreality, how stark the text can be in its visage, and how disturbing it becomes when one crosses over to the other. The story is a long, slow burn with a lingering sizzle, a burn that scabs over into a shape not unlike the face of your dead father ... The Changeling is all about the challenges of raising a child, how being a parent is a truly sacred task, never to be taken for granted. The task of a guardian is one that must be earned rather than given. This is something that both Apollo and Emma Kagwa, and LaValle’s readers, are about to learn on a journey they’ll never forget.
[LaValle] brilliantly and terrifyingly explores the common horrors of domestic life in his latest genre-bending novel ... LaValle has total command throughout the tight, short chapters contained in The Changeling. Every section builds upon the previous one in a way that makes each sentence feel necessary. The characters are believable, and the situations, although they are magical, seem just as plausible ... If you are looking for one book to read this summer, stop. Here it is. Allow Victor LaValle’s masterpiece to haunt your dreams.
LaValle expertly builds a sense of growing dread as Apollo embarks on a quest for retribution, navigating a New York imbued with treacherous magic. The novel cleverly mixes folklore with modern technology. Rapunzel and the Norwegian hero Askeladden play their parts, and so do iPhone apps and Facebook. Especially apt is the notion that using social media is akin to inviting a vampire to enter through your bedroom window. And what kind of creature is it that uses the Internet to sow the seeds of turmoil? ... A supporting character says at one point, 'A bad fairy tale has some simple goddamn moral. A great fairy tale tells the truth.' The Changeling is a great fairy tale, and LaValle conveys the truth about love, marriage, magic and the stories that attempt to make sense of an often dangerous world.
If you’re a fan of dark fairy tales, then this thing has your name written all over it, especially if your name happens to be Victor LaValle, since his name is on almost every other page. This book definitely benefits from knowing as little as possible, so I’ll just say this: read it. Read the book. Don’t be a jerk. Stop reading this review and go read the damn book. Read. The. Book. You won’t be disappointed. Well, you might be disappointed if you hate good books, I guess.
Victor LaValle’s fourth novel, The Changeling, is a supernatural horror tale as subtle as a slipstream. Although more than capable of crafting what some genre writers puckishly term ‘mundane fiction,’ LaValle knows that contemporary reality cannot always be adequately described by realistic literary fiction … The Changeling begins as a Chandler-esque murder mystery and ends as a picaresque journey through the more terrifying stages of marriage and parenthood. Weaving anger, irony, and compassion through every plot point, LaValle laces his gargantuan epic tighter than a waist-training corset … The signature triumph of The Changeling is not how it explodes idealistic myths about love and intimacy so much as how it indicts social media as a high-tech vector for social pathologies.
Victor Lavalle's new, many-layered version transfers the changeling tales from most of medieval Europe and parts of Africa through time and space – and cultures – to today's Manhattan … Some puzzling plot work follows, with the husband, Apollo, demanding at gunpoint that Emma's fellow librarians tell him where she has fled. That siege lets the author drive home the Manhattan-ness of his setting…The episode also illustrates Lavalle's use of a magicians' technique...between his use of suggestion and distraction, he eases the readers into a new state, where nothing is as it seems … Lavalle casts some up-to-date light on one of the more obscure areas of cultural development, the political and social uses of myth. Without destroying the magic of these old stories, he has made The Changeling well worth the time and effort.
LaValle makes occasionally strained efforts to weave contemporary concerns—helicopter parenting, online oversharing, and Internet trolls—into this elemental fabric. Nonetheless, the novel works best when immersed in the violent, unpredictable realm of dark fairy tales, which, as one character tells Apollo, 'are not for children.'”
LaValle has a knack for blending social realism with genre tropes, and this blend of horror story and fatherhood fable is surprising and admirably controlled ... though the narrative takes Apollo to 'magical places, where the rules of the world are different,' he’s fully absorbed the notion that fairy tales are manifestations of our deepest real-world anxieties. In that regard, LaValle has successfully delivered a tale of wonder and thoughtful exploration of what it means to be a parent. A smart and knotty merger of horror, fantasy, and realism.