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Christian Fennell
The Fiddler in the Night

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Publish)

Christian Fennell's, The Fiddler in the Night, is a return by the author to the raw, abstract, and visceral landscapes set forth in his critically acclaimed collection of short stories, Torrents of Our Time. In his debut novel, Fennell takes the reader on an orphaned teen's journey through the darker recesses of rural America--horrifying, yet compelling--where he tries to stay one step ahead of a soulless killer. A tragic love story unfolding against a background that is both real and imagined, making this novel as memorable for its language as for its non-stop and blistering storyline.
Fennell’s debut novel follows 16-year-old Jonathan on an adventure-filled road-trip through the backwoods of America in a desperate search for his missing mother. While living with his parents on the family sheep farm in a small town his ailing father dies. On the night of the wake, his mother goes missing and a gun and truck disappear from the house. Jonathan embarks on an epic quest to find her, unaware of the dangers before him—including a killer close at hand. On his journey, Jonathan meets and falls in love with a young woman escaping her own violent past. The road is filled with strangers and bloodshed, but also love and camaraderie as he encounters others who have likewise been touched by violence.

Fennell describes Jonathan’s journey in evocative, crisp prose. Some passages—“So beautiful. Her hand upon his face. The madness in his eyes dissipating”—read almost like poetry. Jonathan and the group of people he amasses are all fully realized characters with compelling stories. Leonard, the violent criminal pursuing Jonathan, is relentless and frightening. In one scene, he crushes a baby chick’s skull to make a point about culling the weak. All of this creates an eerie, dark atmosphere throughout the book.

Some readers might be put off by the extreme violence, especially as most of that violence is directed towards female characters. The middle section of the book can get repetitive, with Jonathan introducing himself to new allies and repeating his story as he searches for his mother. It is also not clear who certain characters are or why they are being focused on until the final act. When it all comes together, however, the destination is worth the slightly meandering journey. Readers who enjoy coming-of-age road trips and horror tales will enjoy this intense, dark novel.

Takeaway: This dark coming-of-age story will impress readers with its distinctive writing and intense, at times violent, story.

Great for fans of: Randy Kennedy’s Presidio: A Novel, Max Porter’s Lanny.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B