The Caretaker of Lorne Field Dave Zeltserman

In a word--superb.  A horror novel, a meditation on faith and belief, the story of a modern Job, and perhaps much, much more.  I tore through this book at a prodigious rate--especially notable given the reading doldrums in which I have found myself for the past several weeks/months.

The Caretaker of Lorne Field is the story of Jack Durkin, the 9th generation of Durkins given the task of tending to a field in the middle of nowhere.  And 9 generations of Durkins is only the beginning because one gets hints that Native Americans before this also tended the task.  Bound to the laborious task of weeding the field from sun-up to sun-down from first frost to winter thaw by an elaborate contract that details every aspect of the job, Durkin is paid $8,000 a year and given a house to live in.  This is not enough for his wife, who while happy enough at the prospect of the job at the beginning has seen no cost-of-living increase in the 20 or so years she has lived with Jack.  The story details the progressive erosion of the contract, though not of Jack's willingness to try to fulfill it despite all of the obstacles placed in his way.  Jack insists on keeping to the field as a one-man mission to save humanity from the Aukowies--weed-like beings that grow at a prodigious rate.  Their reproduction could bring an end to humanity in a mere two weeks.

While there is some ambiguity in the story, as with any really excellent novel of horror, it seems that the end of the book pretty much does away with any doubt about what has happened.  The story traces the trajectory of Jack's rise to respect as the Caretaker and his eventual fall as all of the older generation who understood what he did dies off and Jack is left facing a disbelieving younger crowd. 

The story is riveting--from the first sentence to the last Mr. Zeltserman binds the reader in the spell of the events and in the question of Jack Durkin's sanity or lack thereof.  In this way an inheritor of the mantle of such works as The Haunting of Hill House, Mr. Zeltserman produces a unique story--one that will live with the reader for some time to come. (Ironic, in a way, that a story which is essentially about weeding a "garden" could be so compelling.)

One of the reasons for the power of the story is the question of meaning.  The story reads at once like a modern psychological thriller, a horror novel, and a parable of faith, belief, and changing times.  And it works well on all of those levels. As one ponders the progressive dissolution of Jack and his family, one is forced to ponder also how what we believe shapes how we live and how what we don't believe flies in the face of a tradition which may be far more right than we know--how what we abandon on the basis of the new and modern may actually be more true than what we hold to.

Powerful writing, a fast tempo, engaging themes, interesting characters--this book is well worth any reader's time.  And, very important, excellent reading for your journey into The October Country.

Highly recommended *****


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