When speaking of depression, the experience that springs most readily to mind is sadness; a melancholy so profound that its victims are weighed down into a completely inert state. What many do not realize is that depression can also represent a completely debilitative case of self-absorption. The depressed person is engaged in a constant examination of the inner mirrors of their soul and battles their loathing of what those mirrors reveal. And while the person is caught in a looking-glass maze of self-recrimination and doubt, they lose the ability, or even the desire, to interact in a meaningful way with the people with whom they come in contact.
On the surface, Randall Silvis’ “The Boy Who Shoots Crows” involves the disappearance of twelve-year-old Jesse Rankin, a troubled boy living with an alcoholic father and his victimized mother in a small town with few options. He is known to go out to the woods that separate his family’s trailer from the Dunleavy farmhouse and shoot at the crows that gather there --either from boredom or as a release from his tragic, and far-too-ordinary, life. Charlotte has only recently arrived in town, bringing with her the demons birthed from her poisonous marriage and bitter divorce. Questions quickly arise as to Charlotte’s involvement in Jesse’s disappearance and how much she knows of his ultimate fate.
Silvis presents a tried-and-true premise with the promise of an intriguing mystery. Instead, he takes a risk and performs a unique literary balancing act. While he sets the scene for a traditional mystery story--complete with a quaint farm community, a stolid small town sheriff, and charming neighbors--Silvis chooses to allow his protagonist’s descent into despair to serve as the novel’s primary engine, not the mystery investigation. It is a gamble that largely works due to Silvis’ ability to infuse each passage with heavy emotion and to immerse the reader in the inner world of the main character, Charlotte Dunleavy. As Charlotte’s inner turmoil grows, it colors her perception of the world around her and her ability to engage with her neighbors and potential friends. Silvis brilliantly describes the kaleidoscopic point-of-view through Charlotte begins to view her surroundings, taking the reader along for the downhill ride into an inevitable, though satisfying, conclusion. What happened to Jesse is merely the catalyst of the plot. What the novel is actually about is the muddled paths down which our perceptions, distorted by the funhouse mirrors of our introspection, can bring us.
Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett
Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew. Visit him at Serial Distractions.