Monday, September 27, 2010
The Caretaker of Lorne Field as a Rorschach test
Here we have what appears to be a straightforward horror story about a 300 year-old legend that demands a caretaker diligently weed a field in a small New England town from Spring thaw until first frost, or the world will come to an end. The story set in modern times has the current caretaker, Jack Durkin, believing what he pulls out from the ground each day are Aukowies—creatures who if left unattended will, according to the 300 year-old Book of Aukowies, grow into blood thirsty creatures that will ravage the world. Some of the older townspeople still believe this legend, most believe that all Jack is pulling out of the ground are ugly weeds. And there’s the rub. Jack either knows something most of these other people don’t, or he’s delusional, and which one it is is left up in the air, at least until the end of the story.
The Caretaker of Lorne Field has unexpectedly become a kind of Rorschach test where no two readers seem to take it quite the same way. Publisher’s Weekly called Caretaker in a starred review a ‘superb mix of humor and horror’. Booklist calls it a ‘superbly crafted horror story [that] explores the dichotomy between belief and rationality’. Kirkus found it harrowing, Library Journal, a nail-biter, and Stefan Dziemianowicz for Locus Magazine, ‘a very darkly funny dark fantasy’. Ed Siegel for Newsday writes it’s a ‘delicious horror-ish novel’ that explores sub-themes of belief vs. logic, sacrifice vs. selfishness and one generation against another. Joe Hartlaub for Bookreporter.com believes Caretaker succeeds as a horror novel, as a psychological thriller and as a haunting parable. Naomi Johnson found Caretaker layered with dread and unease, and saw it as a religious parable, with Jack enduring as Job had endured. Author Paul Tremblay views Caretaker as a horror novel and also a parable of society’s current meanness, unease and ambiguity. Other readers and reviewers see the book as a political parable, as a fable mirroring modern society, as a fascinating character study and as a poignant blending of H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King. A reviewer for the Dallas News, David LaBounty, even saw it as camp.
So what is it about this deceptively simple story that seems to affect readers so deeply, and yet has each reader taking this novel so differently? That is something that each person is going to have to discover for themselves.