Unsure quite I was pre-approved to read Lucretia and the Kroons’, published in July 2012, I was however curious to read Victor Lavalle’s novella, described by Gary Shteyngart as a master of literary horror.
After reading an audio transcript of an interview between Lavalle and Amy Minton on Narrative Voice, I decided to download his book and find out what it was all about, it being good to read outside what one would ordinarily choose.
It’s an adolescent literary horror of the tame kind and might even be considered magic realism depending on how you interpret it. The world Lucretia enters can be seen as a metaphor for that which we either witness as an observer or experience as one who is mortally ill – that place somewhere between the living and the dead. Lavalle’s flourishing imagination takes two girls to a place that may or may not exist on an adventure of a zombie-ish kind.
Lucretia celebrated her 12th birthday without her best friend Sunny because she was too ill to attend. Lucretia is determined to spend time with her friend to make up for it and so arranges with much difficulty for Sunny to spend an afternoon with her, convincing her mother to leave them unsupervised for two hours.
Just before Sunny’s imminent arrival, Lucretia’s brother Louis tells her a story about the Kroons, the people who used to live two floors up and relishes warning her, as only older brothers can do, of the horrors that can happen to children. Lucretia is afraid for herself and especially for Sunny, who lives one floor up, so decides to take matters into her own hands with the intention of rescuing her friend.
The experience of reading Victor Lavalle is a little like Murakami for teenagers, unique multi-layered interpretations of reality or non-reality which require the reader to let go and read with an open mind. I found myself looking for and finding many parallel meanings, not necessarily those the author intended, but that is the magic of the book, that her entrance into this other worldly place can be interpreted in different ways. It did leave questions which a successfully written magic realism story inevitably does about what really did happen and the answer I find is always best when left to the reader’s interpretation rather than dictated by the author.
The author does offer an alternative interpretation in the final pages of the book, which really I almost prefer to ignore, because it was not required and added nothing to the story and might only serve to confuse younger readers and make it less likely to be something they could relate to.
I think this book and others like Neil Gaiman’s Coraline are interesting for young people who are drawn towards the much more imaginative, often dark, transformational kind of oeuvres. It is not what I read as a child, but it is what my daughter likes to read and create (graphic novels included) characters that are different from the norm, semi-gothic at times, avant-garde (not even sure of an apt word to describe it) and wonderful in a kind of ghoulish way, though the troubles they must overcome are no different to many others, who might read about them in a more conventional way. I think Lavalle is onto a good thing.
Note: This book was an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC), provided by the publisher via NetGalley.