cover of A GOOD AND HAPPY CHILD is the tipoff. Fashioned after a
woodcut picturing demonic possession/abduction, it is grotesque
enough to give one a bit of a start --- my nine-year-old daughter
would make a large avoidant circle around any table where the book
happened to be --- and certainly portends what is to come in this
thoughtful literary thriller by debut author Justin Evans.
Thirty-year-old George Davies is a new father who cannot bring
himself to hold his newborn son. Needless to say, this causes some
consternation on the part of Davies's wife, who strikes one as a
bit of a no-nonsense harpy even under the best of circumstances.
With some prodding, Davies goes to therapy, a process that slowly
awakens his childhood memories from two decades ago. At the
instigation of his therapist, Davies begins writing journal entries
concerning the mysterious death of his father and what occurred
afterward, including an appearance of a boy his age who, against
all odds, wanted to be his friend and seemed to know his deepest,
most secret thoughts --- not to mention a prescient, omnipresent
knowledge of what was going on around him.
As Davies's behavior becomes more unrestrained and erratic, his
mother believes it is a natural if unfortunate grief reaction to
the loss of his dad. Yet associates of Davies's late father see a
more sinister force behind what is occurring, not only with young
Davies but also with respect to his father's premature demise, a
supernatural force that means to take possession of Davies's very
soul --- with consequences that will affect him dramatically both
as a child and as an adult.
Evans's background is in the business strategy and development
arena, and the well-structured development of this fine and
frightening work will keep you guessing throughout and after your
reading. He raises questions that normally lay slumbering behind
doors, which self-styled educated people rarely if ever open, and
the disturbing awakening makes this debut all the more impressive.
A GOOD AND HAPPY CHILD is a fine and memorable opener.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011