The Shadow Year

Posted by : atcampbell | On : November 16, 2010

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford

This meeting at the Milwood Library drew seven attendees. Our topic was Jeffrey Ford’s The Shadow Year, a recent winner of the World Fantasy Award. This book follows a group of kids in 1960s Long Island growing up in a neighborhood where strange things are happening. Two of us had read Ford before. All of us started the book, and six finished it.

We liked the book’s strong narrative voice and evocative description of Long Island in the LBJ era. People in the group who remembered that time enjoyed Ford’s authentic recreation of it. Most of us felt the personalities of the kids were well-fleshed-out, and the relationships among family members seemed believable. We enjoyed their crazy antics at Halloween and Thanksgiving. The narrator’s little sister was everyone’s favorite character. And the mystery element worked for many of us.

Most of the people at the meeting did not feel that this book had much or any fantasy component. This surprised some of us since it had won the World Fantasy Award. But many enjoyed the story enough that they did not mind. As one person put it, “it’s like expecting Beethoven and getting Philip Glass.”

The book has a fairly minimal plot that moves slowly. Some in the group had no problem with that, but a few were disappointed and bored. The book’s narrator is never given a name or a gender. This bothered one person so much that he stopped reading the book.

One person said she kept wondering how this story would have been told by another author. She felt that Ford took every exciting emotional moment and turned down the volume.

Overall we thought that The Shadow Year is a well-done book that would appeal to selective audiences. It was suggested that fans of Gene Wolfe or Tim Powers would likely enjoy it.

After the meeting, many of us got together for a nice dinner at Culver’s.

—A. T. Campbell, III