Review

The Glister

by John Burnside

Past a small dreary town, through a poisoned wood, there sits
the ruins of a chemical factory. The factory was once the heart and
purpose of the town, but it is shut down now, abandoned and
decaying. The people are sick and, without options, stay there to
die mysterious and painful deaths. But for the teenage boys of
Innertown, the most immediate threat is random, unseen and almost
unacknowledged.

In THE GLISTER by John Burnside, teenage boys disappear --- not
very often and not very many, but enough to convince 15-year-old
Leonard that he is not at all safe in his hometown. Like his fellow
teenagers charged with caring for dying parents, he dreams of
leaving Innertown but isn't sure how to do so. He escapes instead
through the meager literary offerings in the library, sex with his
emotionally distant girlfriend and contemplative time at the old
chemical plant. His mother is gone, his father mute and damaged,
and the other adults around him unable to protect him from the
violence and illness that is killing Innertown.

Burnside's tale is beautiful and menacing, toxic and alluring,
like the empty and sinister chemical plant that has poisoned
Innertown. Though told from the perspective of several characters,
this is really Leonard's book --- at once a coming-of-age tale, a
murder mystery, a horror story and an apocalyptic warning about
industry and responsibility. Leonard is a tender and an innocent
young man, though guilty of many trespasses, and he embodies the
complexities, fears, anxiety and desperation of Innertown.

When Leonard finds himself in the heart of the chemical plant,
with a stranger he thought was his friend, he comes face to face
with the evil that the plant has manifested --- the Glister. In a
frightening and lyrical ending, readers must decide for themselves
what the Glister actually is and what is really haunting the woods
and the chemical plant.

THE GLISTER is a short book, but there is much to enjoy, recoil
from and decipher in its pages. Burnside's command of language is
obvious, lending a poetic quality to this scary novel. Like a
post-modern fairy tale, it explores life and death and the end of
childhood as well as bigger ideas about society, greed and
apathy.

Burnside's latest is ambiguous, and that may not satisfy all
readers. Leonard confronts all degrees of evil, and before he, and
readers, can come to any conclusions, the narration changes gears,
delivering an unforgettable ending. For those willing to follow
Burnside to the shadowy and uncertain world of Innertown, a
thought-provoking, challenging and original
conclusion-without-a-conclusion awaits.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

The Glister
by John Burnside

  • Publication Date: March 10, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Nan A. Talese
  • ISBN-10: 0385527640
  • ISBN-13: 9780385527644