In 1986, five young friends experience a grimly life altering summer, culminating in their discovery of a dismembered corpse. Thirty years later, the terrible events of that summer seem to be resurfacing.
Twelve-year-old Eddie and his four friends roamed their small town like typical kids. They built forts in the woods, rode their bikes to the park and looked forward to the local fair. But things were not typical that summer. Some of the pack members were struggling with issues at home, there was tension with group dynamics, and there was just an overall feeling that things weren’t quite right.
Bored with their usual activities, the kids devised a method of leaving messages for each other in chalk. It’s exciting for awhile, until someone uses the chalk code to lead them to a body in the woods, the body of someone Eddie knows.
Fast forward 30 years. The five friends all receive threatening letters consisting of chalk drawn stick figures in hangman’s nooses. One of the five wants to write a book about that long ago summer. Eddie begins having alcohol-induced nightmares about the murder. The past is returning with a disturbing vengeance. There are clearly loose ends and injustices that need to be resolved and Eddie takes it upon himself to do just that.
This would be one of the rare times Eddie has done the right thing. His life is full of examples in which he didn’t defend a friend, stand by someone who cared about him or choose the tough right over the easy wrong. His adult self is an empty, lonely shell just going through the motions of living. The author skillfully develops his character as well as those of his friends and the adults in young Eddie’s life, with a few exceptions discussed below.
The author also put together a decent plot and uses the technique of flipping back and forth between 1986 and 2016 effectively. One of the themes of this novel is that seemingly innocuous actions can have terrible, unintended consequences and this concept adds to the mystery of what’s really going on.
What the author didn’t do well is disguise her disdain for God and religion. So she created an unoriginal, child abusing, villainous vicar and portrayed pro-life protesters as hypocritical, violent loons. And Eddie frequently spouted things like, “If anyone mentions God when I die, I hope they burn in hell.” Pretty ironic coming from the empty, soulless man who probably would have benefited from having more God in his life.
“The Chalk Man” was ok. It kept my interest enough for me to finish it so that I could see how all the loose ends would be tied up. I thought it was overly grim, but I also realize that that’s not unusual for this genre. It’s probably a library check out versus a hard back purchase.
Have you read “The Chalk Man”? What did you think?