Pros: Fantastic atmosphere; great new take on an old premise
Cons: One character feels like a plot device with a little depth tacked on
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The time is 1963. The place: rural America, out in the middle of nowhere. This town has a secret—a very old, dark secret—one that keeps the crops growing and keeps the town peaceful. Except for one night of the year, Halloween.
It’s a premise that’s seen play before. Old rituals still hold sway in nameless towns around the borders of our modern world. Yet Norman Partridge takes this premise and spins it in circles, creating a story that maintains the atmospheric feel of all these wonderful tales while taking on a distinct life and character of its own.
Once a year, at Halloween, the members of the Harvesters’ Guild unleash a horror upon the town: the October Boy, a living scarecrow with a pumpkin for a head and candy for innards. All young men aged sixteen to eighteen are locked in their rooms without food for the five days beforehand, then unleashed upon the town to hunt down the October Boy. It’s their job to stop him from reaching the church in the center of town. The boy who stops him will be allowed to leave town—something no one ever does—and his family will be given a fancy new house and car.
Pete lives with his unemployed drunk of a father, and knows the ritual is his only chance to get out of town. He’s determined to be the one who kills the October Boy, and he’s smart enough to do it right. But the October Boy has a new game plan of his own this year, and is every bit as determined to make it to the church.
Partridge see-saws back and forth from character to character and an omniscient narrator that involves the reader intimately in the story. It’s the kind of risk that could fail miserably, yet that works out perfectly in this case, beautifully setting the scene and building up the atmosphere.
The story itself is a fascinating skein that weaves threads of such writers as Bradbury yet tells its own tale. The twists and turns the story takes are Partridge’s own, and are ultimately what make it such an enjoyable read. The book goes quickly—I read it in the space of a morning—and its story sticks with you. While Pete knows a few things about the October Boy and the ritual surrounding him, he doesn’t know everything, and the secrets he’s about to uncover will change the nature of the game for him in some potentially devastating ways.
My one reservation regards the manner in which he pieces together some of these secrets. There’s a character that joins him along the way that seems almost half plot-device. It would be easy to miss that this is her function since Partridge does a great job of giving her a personality with depth and character, but in order to be more than a plot device I think she’d really have to show up earlier and be a bit more involved. The fact that she has a fair amount of personality, however, makes this a minor and easily forgivable slip.