A melding of horror, fantasy, and social consciousness realism, The Changeling is a dark, modern-day fairy tale about a devoted father's confrontation with otherworldly evil after his family is torn apart.
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.