Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Light, By D.J. MacHale

At the opening of D.J. MacHale’s The Light, Sixteen year-old Marshall Sever is preparing for a great summer. He plans to hang with his best friend, Cooper Foley, just as they have done every summer since they were little kids. But there are problems with his plan. For one, Cooper is tired of doing the stuff that Marshall gets into, like building model rockets, playing video games and drawing comics. For another, Cooper is in a little trouble with the law for trying to scalp some counterfeit tickets. Cooper’s parents decide to take Cooper to their summer lake house, to keep him out of trouble both with the law and keep him from the kids who provided him with the contraband.

At the same time Marshall is still grieving the death of his mother, killed in an accident two years earlier. So, when Marshall’s father goes away on business, with Cooper at the lake house, Marshall is completely alone. That’s when the trouble truly begins. One of Marshall’s comic creations is a character called Gravedigger, a corpse-like entity who Marshall draws obsessively. When Gravedigger shows up in the nightmarish visions Marshall starts to have while home alone he begins to think he’s gone completely crazy. He is convinced that he could get his mind around all of this, that he could hold on to his sanity if only he could talk to the one person he truly trusts, the one person he is sure would listen to him, his best friend, Cooper. But Cooper has disappeared from his family’s lake house and no one knows where he’s gone.

MacHale is a competent storyteller and handles the horror genre well, providing enough twists and surprises to keep you on edge through the entire narrative. He depends a little too heavily on horror movie clichés (e.g., the familiar person’s face that suddenly transforms into the monster’s) to reach the levels of a true master like Stephen King, but he keeps the terror coming.

He also provides a clear sense of the upstate New York world that Marshall and Cooper live in, with its wealth and upper middle class competiveness. He grasps the three-way class tensions between the business owners, the wealthy and the ultra-wealthy vacationers and uses those tensions to great effect.

Most of all, though, MacHale understands friendship. Through dialog that reveals the unique language of two people who have grown up as best friends, and through well-placed flashbacks, we get a real sense of the dedication of a truly fierce friendship. For Marshall and Cooper it’s a dedication that drives each of them to take on the difficult and daring, even when they are separated by an impossible distance. For all of its horror, and all of its action, The Light is ultimately a story of this friendship. It’s both more heartwarming and sad than it is terrifying.

The Light is the first volume in the Morpheus Road series. While it works pretty well as a stand-alone novel, not all of the story’s mysteries are unraveled by its conclusion. If you need to know everything, be prepared to read some more.

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