To read Alan Kessler’s Shadowlands is to inhabit the mind of, first, a child suffering both physical and emotional abuse, and, then, a young man and adult who seems apparently normal but is falling what most of us would call madness.
It’s an extraordinary, disturbing, riveting book.
It begins with the adult Steve Goldblatt lured into a boat by a childhood best friend. Goldblatt can’t swim. And the story is shaped around everything that led to Goldblatt drowning.
The Goldblatt family lives in small town, Ohio. Steve’s father owns a factory or, rather, the factory owns him. He never speaks to his son or his two daughters. He disciplines his son with physical abuse – kicking the boy with his leather shoes. The abuse is so much a part of Steve’s life that he equates pain and abuse with love.
A large part of Shadowlands is about Steve’s childhood, and slowly we begin to see the world through Steve’s very distorted eyes, and how his dysfunctional family affects everything – friends, school and teachers, girls, and all of his relationships.
Gradually, as he grows older, Steve begins to emulate his father, wanting the things his father has. Interestingly, his college years receive what he has learned, as he continues his maintenance of a C average though more gifted than that; the C average allows him freedom – the freedom to operate away from attention and interest, the freedom to pursue the things he’s most interested in, things like money and power. He simultaneously begins law school and working for a shady attorney, an associate of his father’s, and soon manipulates the attorney to achieve his own ends.
He’s not a sympathetic character, this Steve Goldblatt. He’s broken in ways that can’t be made whole, and so he constructs his own broken existence, hurting anyone who tries to get close.
There’s likely a bit of that brokenness in all of us, and that’s what makes the story compelling (and difficult to put down). Kessler has drawn his hero, or anti-hero, large, large enough to be uncomfortably recognizable.
My review of Alan Kessler’s The Satan Carol.
Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.