I read this as an antidote to Maggie Stiefvater’s works, and boy howdy is it ever an opposite sort of work. Nothing twee here. Nothing simple. As with all the other authors whom I’ve never read before, I’m going to reserve judgement on whether I like McMahon’s work as a whole, but Don’t Breathe A Word certainly refreshed me after Shiver and Lament. Also, made me nervous in the night about shadows behind the closet door and noises under the bed…but no, I’ll make you read the book too. No sense just one of us being scared.
Fifteen years before ‘present day’, twelve year old Lisa disappeared into the woods around her home town of Harmony, telling her little brother Sam that she was going to the fairies who lived in a nearby ghost town, Reliance. Sam has lived with this secret ever since, and the promise he made to “Teilo”, King of the Fairies, at the behest of his older sister. Phoebe has secrets of her own; childhood nightmares of a Dark Man who climbed from a trapdoor under her bed have persisted into adulthood, combined with her mother’s death in a tub filled with iron kitchen implements under the running shower, clothes turned inside out1, have left her with mental scars equal to Sam’s residue from childhood. In ‘now’, Phoebe is living with Sam, now grown, and loves him for his very stability and ordinaryness, though not wholly espoused to his treehugger vegan lifestyle. Their life together starts unraveling when Sam decides to spend a weekend with his cousin and her husband, having not spoken since Lisa’s disappearance. The catch? It’s not his cousin…she’s unmarried and trapped in her apartment by agoraphobia…or is she? Their stable life together in the present unravels as more past issues bob to the surface. In the end, Phoebe is forced to hide with her paranoid friend Franny in an attempt to escape…whom? Well, to escape whomever held Lisa captive all those years. We’re just not sure who, precisely, that was.
If you’re a fan of Maggie Stiefvater or Stephenie Meyers, avoid this book. If you’re after a book that’s unequivocally about the “faerie realm”, avoid this book, particularly if you prefer the sweet ickle pixie type of Other Folk. This book is not for people who like simply structured books, as it alternates chapters between ‘then’ (events surrounding Lisa’s disappearance) and ‘now’ (events surrounding her reappearance triggering a cascade of peculiar events) It’s particularly not for people who like straightforward endings to straightforward plots; the ending to this one could be one of three things:
1) the Fair Folk are real, and they’re as frighteningly powerful as the warning tales would have us believe
2) the whole story is something dreamed up as a protective shell for/by victims of some serious dysfunction that borders on Deliverance
3) the whole story, frame and all, is merely one told by an extremely unreliable narrator.
To quote ZBS Media’s “Ruby 2” radio play, “That wasn’t a double cross! It was a triple cross!”
1this may serve as a summary of the issues with the book’s ending: the mother’s death was possibly suicide, possibly a bad case of DTs brought on by a lifetime of deep alcoholism, possibly a vain attempt to protect herself from the Fair Folk